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FOUNDATIONS OF ETHICS 



FOUNDATIONS OF 

ETHICS 

THE GIFFORD LECTURES 

delivered in the 
University of Aberdeen, 1935-6 

by 
SIR W. DAVID ROSS 

Provost of Oriel College, Oxford 
President of the British Academy 



OXFORD 

AT THE CLARENDON PRESS 



Oxford University Press, Amen House, London B.C. 4 

GLASGOW NEW YORK TORONTO MELBOURNE WELLINGTON 
BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS CAPE TOWN 

Geoffrey Cumberlege, Publisher to the University 



FIRST EDITION 1 939 

Reprinted lithographically in Great Britain 

at the UNIVERSITY PRESS, OXFORD, 1 949, 1951 

from sheets of the first edition 



PREFACE 

THIS book represents the result of further reflections on 
moral theory, since I published in 1930 a book called 
The Right and the Good. I have tried, in the present book, 
to take account of such books and articles later than 1930 as 
have come my way and as seem to have a close relation, 
whether in the way of agreement or in the way of criticism, 
to the views expressed in the earlier book. The result of further 
reflection has been to confirm me in most of the views I earlier 
expressed, but by no means in all. Some of the topics considered 
have already been much discussed by other writers; the issues 
have been much clarified in the course of the discussion, and 
in such cases I feel comparatively confident that the views I 
have argued for are true, or near the truth. Other topics 
(especially some discussed in Chapter XI) have not been 
much discussed before; there have been few sign-posts saying 
'This way to the truth', 'Proceed at your own risk', or 'No 
road this way'; and in these cases I put forward my conclu- 
sions very tentatively, in the hope that discussion of them may 
tend to clear up the issues. 

I must express my deep gratitude to the University of 
Aberdeen for the honour of being invited to deliver the Gifford 
Lectures, and the hope that the interval between delivery and 
publication will not be thought too long. 

W. D. R. 



CONTENTS 

L INTRODUCTORY 

Our method will be the critical study of the moral consciousness and 

of the main moral theories . . . . .2 

Two main ways of regarding the moral life as obedience to laws, or as 
a striving after goods. Our main task is therefore the study of the 
nature of, and the relations between, tightness and goodness . 3 

The main attempts at definitions of ethical terms may be classified as 
definitions by reference to a mental attitude (reaction theories), or 
by reference to results (causal theories) .... 5 

They may also be classified as naturalistic or non-naturalistic . 6 

It is not always clear, at first sight, to what type a well-known theory 

(e.g. Hedonism) belongs ...... 8 

II. NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

(1) Evolutionary theories have no plausibility as definitions of 'right* . 12 
nor as accounts of the ground of rightness . . . .13 

It is sometimes thought that they have successfully explained rightness 
away, (a) The inquiry into the origin of moral ideas may be thought 
to have undermined their validity; but this cannot be made out . 15 

(K) The discovery of differences between moral codes may be thought 
to have undermined them all; but such differences usually imply 
differences not on fundamental moral questions but on matters of 
fact which form the minor premisses of our ethical thinking . 17 

and in any case difference of opinion cannot prove that no opinion is 

true ........ 19 

(2) Reaction theories: classification of them . . . .21 
(a) Private reactions theory: objections to it . . . .22 
(K) Public reaction theory: objections . . . 24 
(c) The view that defines rightness by reference to the reaction of the 

agent: objections . . . . . . 25 

(3) Causal theories. Hedonism is unplausible as an account of the mean- 
ing of 'right* . . . . , . .26 

The various attempts at defining 'right' would be more plausible if recast 
as attempts (a) to state the ground of rightness (as such they will be 
examined in chs. 4, 5) . . . . 27 

or (K) as Attempts to explain rightness away; but few people are pre- 
pared to make this attempt; differences of opinion are usually as to 
what is right, not as to whether anything is right . . .28 

(4) The positivist theory. This is based on the view that all significant 
propositions are either (i) tautologous, or (ii) empirical hypotheses 30 

Since 'judgements' with 'right' or 'good' as the predicate do not appear 
to be either (i) or (ii), Mr. Carnap says they are not judgements but 
commands; objections to this . . . . .32 



viii CONTENTS 

and Mr. Ayer says they are not judgements but mere expressions of 

dislike . . . . . . . * 34 

The positivist theory examined by studying (a) its view that universal 
synthetic a priori propositions are really only statements about the f 
use of language . . . . . . -35 

(1) its account of judgements about the past . . . 36 

Examination of the positivist view about the relation between the mean- 
ing of judgements and their capacity of being tested by experience 36 

Mr. Ayer's attempt to escape the objection that subjectivistic theories 
make difference of opinion about moral questions impossible . 38 

III. THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 
The most important non-naturalistic definition of 'right* is the defini- 
tion of it as meaning 'productive of the greatest possible amount of 
good'. But it would be more plausible to put this forward as the 
ground, not as the very essence, of lightness . . -42 

The difference between 'right' and 'obligatory* . . 43 

Prof. Broad's discussion of the meaning of 'ought' and 'right'. His dis- 
tinction (a) of two senses and (&) of three applications of 'ought'. 
Discussion of these distinctions . . . . 45 

His view that 'ought' is usually confined to cases where there are 
motives against doing the right action. Discussion . . 48 

His definition of 'right' as meaning 'suitable, in a unique and indefinable 
way, to a situation' . . . . . 5 1 

Is there any real affinity between moral and other suitability? Perhaps 
between it and aesthetic suitability . . . -S3 

Emotions as well as acts may be right, but only acts can be obligatory; 55 
and that is only a loose way of saying that men ought to behave in 
certain ways ....... 56 

IV. THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 
For every theory about the definition of tightness there is a possible 

corresponding theory about the ground of lightness, and these are in 
one respect more plausible, while in another respect some are less 
plausible, than the attempts at definition . . . -57 

(i) Evolutionary theories. Spencer starts by saying that actions are 
right because they are highly evolved, but in the end says they are 
right because conducive to pleasure; he adopts a psychological 
view, of the causal variety . . . . $8 

(a) Reaction theories, (a) The private reaction theory: objections . 59 
(K) The public reaction theory: objections . . . .61 

(c) The view that an act is right because the agent approves of it. This 
cannot be correct as it stands, but an action may perhaps be right in * 
one sense by being thought right in another . . .62 

(3) Causal theories. Hedonism will not be examined at length, (a) 

because it has been ably refuted by other writets . . -64 

(i) because it is only one species of a wider view which seems open to 
criticism, the view that actions are right only when and because 
thty seem likely to produce the maximum good . . 6j 



CONTENTS ix 

The wider theory, ideal or agathistic Utilitarianism, to be examined. It 
seems to have been accepted as axiomatic, but there are difficulties, 
viz. ........ 67 

(a) *lt seems right to produce a fairly high concentration of pleasure, 
or of good activity, rather than a thin distribution of it, even if the 
total amount to be produced were greater in the latter case . 69 

() We do not think it morally indifferent how happiness is to be distri- 
buted between the good and the bad . . . .71 

(c) or between the agent and other people . . . 72 

These facts may be explained (i) by saying that there are duties other 
than that of maximizing good, or (ii) by saying that there are goods 
of higher order (in the mathematical sense), as well as simple goods 
like virtuous action and pleasure * . . . 73 

(<0 We think the duty of not inflicting pain more stringent than the 
duty of producing a corresponding amount of pleasure . . 7 j 

(e) The duties of compensation for wrongs we have done, of making 
return for benefits received, and of fulfilment of promise seem inde- 
pendent of the duty of maximizing good . . . 76 

Prof. Broad's account of lightness as depending partly on utility, partly 

on suitability, accepted, with two minor differences . . 79 

Current objections to Intuitionism: (i) that it does not base duty on one 

single principle . . . . . . .82 

(2) that the supposed intuitions would entail that the same act is both 
right and wrong. This to be met by treating die general principles 
as stating not absolute but prima facie obligations . . 83 

Advantages and 'disadvantages of this phrase: alternative phrases . 84 

V. THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

Mr. Pickard-Cambridge's criticism of this form of Intuitionism. His 

charge of 'inconsistency of principle* . . . -87 

His claim that the ideal utilitarian method is easier to apply . . 89 

His explanation of the duty of promise-keeping by reference to the 
goods to be produced by keeping promises. He seems to confuse 
two questions: (a) Can the keeping of particular promises be justified 
on utilitarian grounds? () Can the general condemnation of promise- 
breaking by public opinion be justified on utilitarian grounds? . 91 

His discussion of cases in which non-fulfilment of promise would be 

generally approved . . ... . 94 

In general, he interprets promises without taking account of the unex- 
pressed conditions implicit in ordinary speech . . .98 

His argument that if the duty of promise-keeping were independent of 
rhat of maximizing good, it ought to be always equally stringent. 
The degree of bindingness of promises is a product of two factors 
the good to be produced and the explicitness of the promise . 99 

His distinction between the objective and the subjective- good to be 
produced by keeping promises. This does not account for certain 
instances in which most of the usual good results are excluded by the 
nature of the case ...... 102 



x CONTENTS 

Mr. Katkov's attempt to bring promise-fulfilment tinder the maximiza- 
tion of good . . . . . . .105 

The duty of promise-keeping requires careful statement if we are to avoid , 
objectionable consequences, (i) It is a duty not to effect a certain * 
result, but to try to do so . . . . . . 108 

(2) It is cancelled if the effecting of the result has become impossible 
(though not if it has become difficult) .... 109 

or (3) if it is clear that the promisee no longer desires its fulfilment . 109 

(4) if we think doing something else will benefit the promisee more than 
keeping the promise would, the latter duty is not cancelled, but 
may be overborne by the former . . . . in 

VI. THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT: 
SOME THEORIES 

Is the being under the influence of certain motives the whole, or a part, 

of our duty? . . . * . . . 114 

(1) If we have not one of these motives, it is not our duty to have it, 
for we cannot produce it by an act of choice. If we have one of 
them, it is not our duty to be under its influence, but to do the act to 
which it points . . . . . . . nj 

(2) It can hardly be our duty to act from some other motive, but 
never from the best, viz. sense of duty; and it cannot be our duty to 
act from the sense of duty, since this, when properly expanded into 
the form 'it is my duty to do act A from the sense that it is my duty 

to do act A', involves a self-contradiction . . . .116 

Prof. Reid's view is open to the objection that it counts the being 
under the influence of a certain motive, which is the precondition of 
the choice, as part of the object of choice . . . .118 

To say that it is our duty to do certain acts, and not to act from certain 
motives, does not make the moral life discontinuous and external, 
because the cultivation of good motives is one of our main duties 
(though one best achieved, in general, by indirection) . .121 

(3) If I want to do my duty, my motive will be the same, whichever act 
I come to think to be my duty, and therefore cannot be what makes 

one act my duty rather than another . . . .123 

(4) What we in fact attend to, when we are trying to discover our duty, is 
not our motives but the nature and probable consequences of possible 

acts ........ 123 

Mr. Joseph's view that in certain cases the nature of the motive is what 

makes an action right . . . . . . 124 

His analysis of a motived act into motive and physical movement . ^ 126 
Ambiguity of the phrase "separating the act from the motive' . .127 

His account of our thinking that we ought to produce pleasure for 

another rather than for ourselves . . . . .128 

His account of action done from sense of duty . . .130 

Later he admits that where we act from a sense of duty alone, the action's 

being a duty cannot spring from its being done from a sense of duty 133 



CONTENTS xi 

Prof. Field's view that the fundamental fact is the goodness of certain 
motives, and that our sense of prima facie obligations is due to the 
normal connexion of certain types of act with good, or with bad, 
motives . . . . . . . -134 

But it would be sheer confusion of thought to have any compunction 
about telling a lie from a good motive, merely because telling lies 
usually proceeds from bad motives . . . .136 

His view that if we can choose a certain act, we can choose what motive 

we shall act from ....... 137 

Aristotle, Kant, and the utilitarians agree in excluding motive from that 
which makes right acts right . . . . .138 

Mr. Joseph's theory that in certain cases the lightness of an act depends 
on the goodness of the system which it forms with its context 140 

Criticism of this view . . . . . .141 

VII. THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT: 
POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 

If an act's tightness is its suitability to the situation, is it its suitability 
to the objective situation, or to the subjective, i.e. to the agent's 
opinion about the objective situation? . . . .146 

Considerations in favour of the objective view . . 147 

Prof. Prichard's discussion of the question. He contends that our 
ordinary thought in part supports the objective view, but on the 
whole is more in agreement with the subjective . . .148 

His contention that an obligation must be an obligation not to effect a 

certain result, but to set oneself to effect it . . 153 

This contention supports the subjective view . . . . 154 

His contention that tightness is not a character of actions, but that 
being obliged is a characteristic of a man, also supports the subjective 
view . . . . . . . . 155 

The act which it is reasonable for a man to do if he wants to do his duty, 
is not that which will produce certain results, nor that which wiser 
men would think likely to produce them, but that which he thinks 
likely to produce them . . . . . .156 

The view that we ought to produce certain results, and the view that 
we ought to act from certain motives, are (though mistaken) natural, 
because actions that produce certain results, and actions from 
certain motives, are in different respects suitable to the situation . 159 

Three self-exertions that have some claim to be what the agent ought 
to do: all are in different senses right, but the one he ought to do is 
that which he thinks most suitable to the circumstances as he thinks 
tjjem to be . . . . . . . 161 

This double dose of subjectivity not really objectionable . .164 

Relation of the morally good act to the right act . . .165 

VIII, THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

The tightness of particular acts was originally apprehended directly, 

and the general principles reached by intuitive induction . .168 



xii CONTENTS 

When the general principles have been grasped, is the lightness of 
particular acts deduced from them ? Only when the general principle 
(i) is accepted on authority, or (2) is not self-evident but has itself 
been reached by reasoning . . . . ." 171 

We often judge acts to be right or wrong, on the ground of only one of 
their probable consequences; the justification for this, when it is 
justified . . . . . . . 173 

When no act presents itself as obviously right, and (i) no principle of 
special obligation is involved, our problem is to estimate (a) the 
probable effects of different acts, and () the goodness of their 
effects . . . . . . . . 175 

Difficulties of (a); it is done by analogical reasoning, with the aid of 
some a priori insight ...... 175 

Difficulties of () estimating the comparative goodness of different 
goods . . . . . . . . 179 

Prof. Price's view that only ordinal and not cardinal numbers can be 
assigned to goods: this would not enable us to choose between 
actions of which one would produce one great good, and the other 
two lesser goods, which we seem sometimes able to do .180 

But we can only assess the goodness of different goods as falling 
within certain fairly wide limits . . . . .183 

The assessment of the goodness of probable results is not a logical 
deduction, but it has other judgements as necessary psychological 
preliminaries . . . . . . .183 

Complication introduced by the principle of organic values . .185 

(2) Where duties of special obligation are involved, we have the 
additional task of balancing them against the duty of maximizing 
goods ........ 1 86 

Consideration of Prof. Reid's objection to intuitionist ethics . .188 

In trying to discover our objective duty, we can usually discover our 
subjective duty . . . . . . .191 

IX. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

Moral action, except from sense of duty, agreed to be motived by desire. 
Aristotle's account of action as preceded by desire of an end, deli- 
beration about means, and choice of means . . .192 

It might seem that we choose an end before we choose the means; but the 
two choices are (i) a choosing to take whatever means are best 
towards a desired end, and (2) a choosing to take certain means as 
being the best . . . . . . . 195 

Aristotle describes deliberation as moving in a straight line from end 

to means; really it is normally much more complex . * .196 

Choice of the means deemed most expedient is followed by a different 
activity, that of setting oneself to bring about some change . 198 

Deliberation often proceeds in the opposite direction to that contem- 
plated by Aristotle, beginning with the suggestion of a possible act; 
most people are in fact suggestible, rather than planners, by nature 199 

Decisions, no less than acts of self-exertion, can be good or bad, and can 
be right or wrong ...... 203 



CONTENTS xiii 

Is action from a sense of duty motived by desire? Kant's view to the 
contrary is insufficiently grounded; dutiful action is motived by the 
desire to do one's duty ...... 205 

Dutiful action is the adoption of means to an end, not because the end 
is desired but because the adopting of means to the end is desired, as 
being one's duty ....... 206 

X. INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

Prof. Broad's view of the a priori argument for Determinism . . 208 

His view admits determination as regards the broad features of any 
situation and denies its necessity as regards the details. This view 
might be justified if the belief in determination rested on a posteriori 
evidence; universal causation cannot be proved a posteriori . 21? 

Belief in the law of causation cannot even be confirmed by experience, 
except in a Pickwickian sense . . . . .213 

The situation which has given rise to the theory of indeterminacy; 

typical statements by physicists . . . . .214 

'An electron has not at any moment both a determinate position and a 

determinate momentum': different interpretations of this . .216 

Confusion in Heisenberg's denial of the law of causation, in which he 

is not followed by Einstein and Planck . . . .217 

Sir A. Eddington's denial of causation much more sweeping than Prof. x 
Broad's; he wishes to substitute probability and statistical generali- 
zations for causal determination . . . . .219 

His distinction of three sorts of inference from observed facts to causes 220 

All these types of inference are equally valid, though inferences of the 
third type are incapable, as yet, of being confirmed by experience . 221 

Empirical verification of the law of causation much more imperfect in 
the realm of moral action than in that of physical events, but the 
a priori necessity of its acceptance the same in both cases . . 222 

Doubt of it rests (i) on the supposed intuition of freedom, (2) on the 
thought that morality involves freedom, (i) Suggested that what 
intuition assures us of is that we sometimes refuse to act on the 
strongest desire of the moment; but it is a self determined by its 
past and by its system of interests that refuses . . . 223 

The case not different in principle when the sense of duty comes in . 226 

Even if dutiful action is motived not by desire but by a unique emotion, 

it does not thereby escape from being determined . . 227 

The uniqueness of choice consists not in being undetermined, but in being 
determined neither by the strongest single desire, nor by the whole 
array of desires; under the influence of the strongest group of co- 
operating desires we prevent the others from affecting our action . 228 

Though complete indetermination is impossible, and if possible would v 
have no moral value, we all naturally incline to believe in it, when not 
philosophizing ....... 230 

The belief in indeterminism largely due to the consideration that we 
can cause any one of two or more changes in the physical world. 
This is true, in the sense that the will can influence the body (within 
limits) as it wishes . . . . . . 23 1 



xiv CONTENTS 

But this, being a fact about the result of an act of self-exertion, throws 
no light on the question whether that act is itself caused . . 233 

The real question is not whether we could produce different bodily 
effects if we set ourselves to do so, but whether, being the beings we 
are, we could indifferently set ourselves to produce different bodily 
effects ........ 234 

This is impossible, yet the ordinary conditions for a judgement of 
possibility are present, viz. (i) that we do not know that we shall 
perform act A, nor that we shall perform act B, (2) that, motives 
for each act being present in us, there is an appreciable probability 
that we shall do act A, and an appreciable probability that we shall do 
act B . . . . - . . *35 

The thought *I can do my duty* is useful as well as, in the above sense, 
true ........ 237 

and it is not made useless by the presence of the thought 'I may not do 

my duty* ........ 238 

When I say 'I can do this', I do not think all the conditions of my 'doing 
this* are present. The phrase really means 'I shall do this if I pre- 
dominantly desire to do it* . . . . . 240 

It does not mean either 'I can do this whether I want or not* or *I can 

do this if I want, and I can produce the want*. . . .241 

Thus in a certain sense it is true that we can do either of several actions; 

but what we do will be determined by the predominant mass of desire 242 

While the metaphysical argument is in favour of determinism, the facts 
of the moral consciousness are not all against it; cf. our reliance on 
people's behaving according to their character, our reaction when 
they behave unexpectedly, the stress laid on the formation of habits, 
and our judgements about people's characters . . . 243 

The uniqueness of moral conduct not to be found in freedom from the 
law of causation, but in the unique nature of the activities involved 
choice, self-exertion, and the thought of duty . . . 246 

(2) The thought of responsibility, as involved in the phenomena of 
remorse, blame, and punishment ..... 246 

Mr. Wisdom's view that the belief in responsibility can be reconciled 
with belief in the law of causation only by supposing the individual 
sold to have had no beginning in time .... 248 

This gives the individual a part-responsibility for all his acts, but it will 
not satisfy the craving for escape from determination by one's own 
past ........ 249 

The only account of responsibility that seems compatible with belief in 
the law of causation ...... 250 

XI. THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

Reasons why a student of ethics must study the nature of goodness' 
'Good* applied to a great variety of things; it may be that (as Aris- 
totle suggests) the various meanings are derived from a single central 
meaning ........ 252 

The 'only universal precondition of our using the word is a favourable 
attitude towards the object; but words mtan something different 
from the attitude they express, and 'good* is no exception . . 254 



CONTENTS xv 

(1) "Goodness of its kind", as ascribed (a) to persons, () to things . 255 

(2) Predicative applications of good: (<z) good as a means to something 
good in itself, () good in itself, (i) on the whole, or (ii) through and 
through. Our main questions which can hardly be considered 
separately are (i) what kind of thing 'goodness through and 
through' is and (2) what things are good in this sense ? . . 257 

Is goodness a relation or relational property? i.e. is a thing's being 
good identical with its being the object of a certain kind of reaction 
on some one's part? ...... 258 

We often have not this explicitly in mind when we call a thing good; 
but further, such a definition does not express explicidy what was 
implicitly in our mind; 'good' expresses an attitude of the judger, 
but asserts a characteristic of the object .... 259 

Instead of identifying what we mean by 'good' with being the object of 
a certain attitude, it would be more plausible to say that nothing has 
the characteristic we mean when we call a thing good. But the 
whole attitude of approval implies the conviction that some things 
are good in themselves . . . . . .261 

Prof. Campbell's view that while virtuous action is good in itself, 
scientific and artistic activity, and pleasure, are merely objects of a 
definite kind of liking, one that is independent, integral and rela- 
tively permanent ....... 262 

His view that these things are 'objects of liking to human nature* must 
either be an inductive generalization from observed human nature, 
in which case it does not express what we mean by 'good', or 
involve the thought of an ideal human nature and therefore of 
certain things' being worthy of liking, i.e. good in themselves . 265 

Prof, Campbell's two claims for his account: (i) that it yields a list of 
goods identical with the intrinsic goods believed in by others, (2) 
that it accounts better than the objective view for varieties of 
opinion as to what things are good, (i) admitted, (2) rejected . 268 

Knowledge and artistic activity owe their goodness not to our reaction 

to them, but to their own nature .... 270 

In what sense is pleasure good ? (i) For 'good' as applied to moral, intel- 
lectual, or artistic activity we can substitute 'admirable* or 'commen- 
dable', but not for 'good' as applied to pleasure. (2) While in virtue of 
performing good activities a man is himself good, no one is good 
in virtue of feeling pleasure. (3) While the goodness of other good 
things entails a duty to maximize them, there is no duty to maxi- 
mize (a) pleasures that are the manifestation of a bad character, or 
(b) pleasures for oneself ...... 271 

Justification, of the statements (a) that we have a duty to maximize 
pleasure for others, and () that we have no duty to maximize it for 
oarselves ........ 272 

(4) We do not think the goodness of pleasure comparable with that of 
good activities . . . . . . .275 

Therefore pleasure can be good only in a different sense from that in 
which good activities are so; for any man the pleasures of others 
(when not vicious) are good in the sense of being worthy objects of 
satisfaction . . . . . . .275 



xvi CONTENTS 

It might be suggested that the production of pleasure for oneself is right 
but not obligatory, since there is no possiblity of a moral conflict 
about it; but the suggestion cannot be accepted . , . 277 

The goodness of good activities seems to be an intrinsic property of 
them; the goodness of the pleasures that are good is a relational 
property, consisting in the fact that it is right to feel satisfaction in 
the pleasure of others ...... 278 

This view about the goodness of pleasures is identical with that of the 
Brentano school about goodness in general; but we do not accept 
the view of that school that goodness in general is one of a class of 
irreal predicates ....... 279 

Summary of conclusions about goodness. Things that are good in the 

two different senses are not comparable in respect of goodness . 282 

For any man, his own pleasures are good only in a third sense, viz. that 
his reaction to them is a favourable one; in other words 'good' is used 
only as expressing an attitude, not as signifying a characteristic . 284 

Should die duties of special obligation be brought under the duty of 
maximizing good, by treating them as duties of producing 'situa- 
tionaF goods which, like the pleasure of others, are good in the 
sense of being worthy objects of satisfaction? . . .285 

Or are die results of die discharge of these duties worthy objects of 
satisfaction only because there is first a duty to produce them ? . 286 

This question considered with reference to the various duties of special 

obligation ....... 287 

XIL MORAL GOODNESS 

The class of things morally good includes (i) certain types of voluntary 

action, (2) certain desires, (3) certain emotions, . . . 290 

(4) certain permanent modifications of character . . .291 

Action is usually held to owe its goodness to its motive . . 293 

An attempted classification of motives, starting from Butler's classifica- 
tion ........ 293 

The view that only future states of oneself can be desired . . 299 

Each kind of motive can exist in varying degrees of generality . 300 

An attempted ordering of motives in respect of goodness . .301 

Kant appears to be mistaken (i) in his attitude towards combinations of 

motives, (2) in his attitude towards all motives but sense of duty . 305 
Actions are good or bad not only in virtue of their motives, but also in 

virtue of the indifferences, or lack of repulsions, which they exhibit 306 
In view of this, a completely good act must necessarily be a right act; 
yet IT. oral goodness and Tightness in some respects remain entirely 
independent ....... 308 

XIII. SUMMARY 311 



I 

INTRODUCTORY 

ONE of the objects specified in Lord Gifford's will as form- 
ing the purpose of his lectures is that of 'Promoting, 
Advancing, Teaching, and Diffusing . . . the Knowledge of 
the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals, and of all 
Obligations and Duties thence arising*. This is the object to 
which I intend to devote myself in this course of lectures. 
I propose to take as my starting-point the existence of what is 
commonly called the moral consciousness; and by this I mean 
the existence of a large body of beliefs and convictions to the 
effect that there are certain kinds of acts that ought to be done 
and certain kinds of things that ought to be brought into 
existence, so far as we can bring them into existence. It would 
be a mistake to assume that all of these convictions are true, 
or even that they are all consistent; still more, to assume that 
they are all clear. Our object must be to compare them with 
each other, and to study them in themselves, with a view to 
seeing which best survive such examination, and which must 
be rejected either because in themselves they are ill-grounded, 
or because they contradict other convictions that are better 
grounded; and to clear up, so far as we can, ambiguities that 
lurk in them. 

This is the time-honoured method of ethics. It was the 
method of Socrates and of Plato; we find constantly, in Xeno- 
phon's Memorabilia or in a dialogue of Plato, some ambitious 
definition pf a virtue rejected on the ground that it would lead 
us to regard some act as virtuous, or again as unvirtuous, that 
no one really thinks to be so. It was the method of Aristotle, 
and has indeed nowhere been better formulated than it is by 
him. 'We must ... set the observed facts before us and, after 
first discussing the difficulties, go on to prove, if possible, the 
truth of all the common opinions about these affections of the 

4584 R 



2 INTRODUCTORY 

mind, or, failing this, of the greater number and the most 
authoritative; for if we both refute the objections and leave 
the common opinions undisturbed, we shall have proved the- 
case sufficiently/ 1 Again, Kant's method was the same, lhave 
adopted in this work', he says in the Preface to the Grundlegung y 
'the method which I think most suitable, proceeding analytically 
from common knowledge to the determination of its ultiniate 
principle'; 2 and to this 'common knowledge' he again and again 
returns, as to that on which his own theory is based and by 
comparison with which it must from time to time be tested. 

I would add a further remark. Aristotle habitually takes as 
a starting-point a consideration of the opinions not only of the 
many but also of the wise. He is predisposed to think that in 
all the main theories, no less than in the views of the plain man, 
there is much that is true, and that even when theories are in 
broad opposition to each other, each is probably erring only 
by overstatement or mis-statement of something that is pro- 
foundly true. It would indeed be strange if any of the main 
theories of ethics were completely in error; it is far more likely 
that each has grasped something that is both true and important 
but has, not through blindness to moral values but by some 
apparently trivial logical error, claimed as the whole truth what 
is only one of a set of connected truths. I may illustrate the 
ideal which ethical theory should aim at, by an example taken 
from a different field. A physical object which has a certain 
shape, say the circular shape, when seen from different points 
of view presents a variety of apparent shapes, ranging from 
the circular through a whole series of elliptical shapes, which 
are explicable as the result of different perspectives. So too, if 
we could reach the truth about the essential problems of ethics, 
we should be able to recognize the varieties of common opinion 
and the varieties of philosophical view as being none of them 
wholly false, but all of them distortions of the truth due to the 
different perspectives in which men have looked at the pro- 



1 Eth.Nk. 

Akad. Ausgabe, iv. 392 (Abbott's translation, p. 9). 



INTRODUCTORY 3 

blems. Some slight contribution to this result is all that I would 
claim for the attempt which will follow. 

The method of ethics is in this respect different from that of 
the physical sciences. In them it would be a great mistake to 
take as our starting-point either the opinions of the many or 
those of the wise. For in them we have a more direct avenue 
to truth; the appeal must always be from opinions to the facts 
of sense-perception; and natural science entered on its secure 
path of progress only when in the days of Galileo men began 
to make careful observations and experiments instead of relying 
on a priori assumptions that had hitherto prevailed. In ethics 
we have no such direct appeal. We must start with the opinions 
that are crystallized in ordinary language and ordinary ways 
of thinking, and our attempt must be to make these thoughts, 
little by little, more definite and distinct, and by comparing 
one with another to discover at what points each opinion must 
be purged of excess and mis-statement till it becomes har- 
monious with other opinions which have been purified in the 
same way. 

In the complex fabric of common opinions about moral 
questions twq^ mau? strands may be discovered. On the one 
hand, there is a group of opinions involving the closely con- 
nected ideas of duty, of right and wrong, of moral law or laws, 
of imperatives. On the other hand, there are opinions involving 
the idea of goods or ends to be aimed at. In the one case the 
ideal of human life is envisaged as obedience to laws, in the 
other as the progressive satisfaction of desire and attainment 
of ends. The one may be called the Hebrew, the other the 
Greek ideal. In the first way of thinking, the laws of human 
life were originally thought of not as grasped on their own 
merits by human thought but as having been authoritatively 
revealed on Mount Sinai as the will of God. But as ethics came 
to win for itself a status independent of religion, these laws or 
others like them came to be thought of as grasped by an in- 
tuitive act of human reason, as categorical imperatives directly 
apprehended as involved in the nature of the moral universe. 



4 INTRODUCTORY 

At the same time the plurality of the imperatives in the original 
code tended to be pruned down, as when Christ reduced the 
ten commandments to two, stating our duty to God and to 
man respectively, or as when Kant reduced the multiplicity of 
imperatives to the one imperative, 'act so tjhat your act can 
be universalized*. But through all such varieties of view the 
thought remains in essence the same, that the essence of the 
good life is obedience to one or more principles. On the other 
hand, we have the whole variety of teleological systems of 
ethics, which start with the thought of certain things as good, 
and of the good life as essentially the attempt to bring these 
into existence. In the cjudest form, of this general type of 
theory, the individual's own pleasure is thought of as the 
supreme end. In the course of time, this view was modified 
in two directions. On the one hand, other elements than 
pleasure were recognized as elements in the end; as when 
Aristotle substituted for pleasure i58<u//ovta, which he thought 
of as including pleasure indeed but as having for its main 
constituent good activity. On the other hand, the general 
pleasure came to be thought of as being, instead of his own 
pleasure, the proper object of each agent's activity. And finally, 
by a fusion of these two corrections of the original, crude view, 
we have the view of ideal Utilitarianism, that the supreme end 
is to secure, both for oneself and for others, a life which in- 
cludes in it both good activity and pleasure. 

The general antithesis between ethical systems in which duty 
is the central theme, and those in which goods or ends are the 
central theme, is clear enough. Yet it would be a mistake to 
suppose that there has ever been an ethics of duty which did not 
include a recognition of intrinsic goods, or an ethics of ends 
which did not include a recognition of duties. Kant's ethics has 
been perhaps the nearest approach to a pure ethics of duty; and 
he claims to evolve the whole duty of man by an analysis of the 
implications of the notion of duty, without introducing the 
thought of goods to be aimed at. But it has often been shown 
that when it comes to the point, he has to argue for the wrong- 



INTRODUCTORY 5 

ness of certain acts on the ground of the badness of the results 
they bring. On the other hand, Aristotle's ethics would seem 
at first sight to be based entirely on the notion of a good or 
an end to be achieved; but in his discussion of the individual 
virtues he does not relate the virtuous act to the final goal of 
human life, but treats it as simply right in its own nature. Nor 
are these mere lapses on the part of Kant or Aristotle, due to 
lack of firmness of purpose. The facts have been too strong 
for them; both the notion of right and the notion of good are 
implied in the study of moral questions, and any one who tries 
to work with one only will sooner or later find himself forced 
to introduce the other. 

The question remains whether either is more fundamental 
than the other, in the sense that the other can be defined by 
reference to it. Only a very careful attention to each of the 
two terms will justify us in giving any answer to this question, 
and we may find even after careful attention that we cannot 
give a simple answer. 

The question what is the relation between the attributes 
goodness and rightness is, however, only part of a larger 
question or series of questions which can be asked about either 
of them. About each of them we can, to begin with, ask the 
question whether it is definable or indefinable. By this question 
I mean the question, with regard to 'right' and again with 
regard to 'good', whether that which we are thinking of when 
we use these terms can be fully expressed by using a complex 
expression of such a form as 'a which is V or m in the relation 
r to ;*', in which none of the terms used is a synonym of the 
term about which we are asking the question. The question 
is, in fact, whether 'good' or 'right' can be elucidated without 
remainder in terms other than itself. 

The various theories which offer definitions of ethical terms 
may be classified in various ways, by using a variety of different 
principles. It seems to me that it is on the whole best to divide 
them into two main classes. In one of these the term in question 
is defined by reference to the attitude of some being or other. 



6 INTRODUCTORY 

One would be holding a view of this kind if one defined a right 
act, or a good moral state, as one which God approves, or 
again as one which a majority of men approve. Here the right- 
ness or goodness of that which is right or good is identified 
with God's having, or most men's having, a certain attitude 
towards that thing. In the other main type of view, the term 
in question is defined by reference to the total consequences of 
the act or moral state in question. One would be holding a 
view of this kind if one defined a right act as one which would 
produce a maximum of life, or as one which would produce 
a maximum of happiness. 

This is not a logically perfect classification of the attempts 
to define ethical terms; for it is not based on an a priori dis- 
junction. It is not possible to see a priori that any such attempt 
must be an attempt to define them either by reference to a 
mental attitude or by reference to total consequences, as it is 
possible to see that any angle must be right, acute, or obtuse. 
Nor do I see how this list of the types of theory could be added 
to so as to make a complete list of all the possible types of 
attempt to define ethical terms. What I think we can assure 
ourselves of by inspection is that in fact all or almost all the 
attempts to define them have conformed to one or other of 
these types. 

There is another way of classifying them which cuts right 
across this classification, viz. Professor Moore's classification 
into naturalistic and non-naturalistic definitions. The former 
are definitions which claim to define an ethical term without 
using any other ethical term; the latter are attempts to define 
one ethical term by the aid of another. It is clear that mental- 
attitude theories may be of either of these types. If you define 
'right' as meaning what is approved by the community, you 
are putting forward a naturalistic definition. If you define 
'good' as meaning 'such that it ought to be desired', you are 
putting forward a non-naturalistic definition. Consequence 
theories also may be either naturalistic or non-naturalistic. If 
you define 'right' as 'productive of the greatest pleasure', you 



INTRODUCTORY 7 

are putting forward a naturalistic definition. If you define it 
as 'productive of the greatest amount of good 9 9 you are putting 
forward a non-naturalistic definition. 

We might adopt either of these classifications as our main 
classification, and use the other for purposes of subdivision. 
We may either use the scheme: 

(i) Attitude theories (2) Consequence theories 

(a) Naturalistic () Non-naturalistic (a) Naturalistic () Non-naturalistic 

or the scheme: 

(A) Naturalistic theories (B) Non-naturalistic theories 

(i) Attitude (ii) Consequence (i) Attitude (ii) Consequence 

theories theories theories theories 

From one point of view the former classification seems the more 
fundamental. It seems to bring together the theories that have 
most in common. Thus the definition of 'right* as 'productive 
of most pleasure' (20) seems to have more in common with 
the definition of it as 'productive of most good* (2^) than 
with the definition of it as 'approved by society 1 (ia). And 
historically the two former are more closely connected; for 
theory (2^) has in fact been produced by reflection on the 
shortcomings of theory (20), which has no historical connexion 
with theory (ia). 

Yet in their general colouring, if I may put it so, all naturalistic 
theories have more in common than any of them has with any 
non-naturalistic theory. For all naturalistic theories amount 
to saying that all the statements in which we use either the 
predicate 'right' or the predicate 'good', and think that in doing 
so we are dealing with a very special kind of attribute, are really 
statements of ordinary matters of fact which can be discovered 
by mere observation. Whether a certain kind of act is com- 
manded by society, or whether it produces more pleasure than 
any other possible act would, is a thing to be discovered (if at 
all) by ordinary observation; if that is all that 'ought' means, 



8 INTRODUCTORY 

there is no need and no place for a special branch of study 
called ethics; for there are no ineradicably ethical terms. On 
the other hand, all non-naturalistic theories have more in 
common with one another than any of them has with any 
naturalistic theory; for while they define some ethical terms 
by reference to others, they preserve at least one ethical term 
as irreducibly different from any term expressive of ordinary 
matter of fact. And if, as we have seen, there have been 
historical connexions between certain naturalistic and certain 
non-naturalistic theories, there have also been historical con- 
nexions between attitude theories and consequence theories. 
The whole sociological school of ethics, while it is evolu- 
tionary in its origin, and therefore began by defining ethical 
terms by reference to the biological consequences of certain 
acts or states, shows a tendency to relapse into defining 'right 5 
as 'commanded by the community' a tendency most clear in 
the French sociologists, who claim to reduce ethics to the 
science des m&urs, the historical and comparative study of 
the codes current in different communities, and reject the 
notion that there is any absolute standard by which these codes 
can be judged to be higher or lower. 

On the whole, then, the division into naturalistic and non- 
naturalistic theories is the more important, and I have had it 
always in the background of my mind, though I have not 
thought it necessary to discuss all the naturalistic theories con- 
secutively and all the non-naturalistic theories consecutively. 

It is not always clear at first sight to which type a well-known 
theory really belongs. At first sight Hedonism, in all its forms, 
whether egoistic or utilitarian, would seem to belong to the 
class of naturalistic theories about lightness, and it is often so 
described described as 'reducing 1 rightness to the tendency 
to produce pleasure. But we must be careful to distinguish 
two possibilities. A hedonist may take the view that this is 
what rightness r, that this is its correct definition; and then 
he is offering a naturalistic theory. But he may be holding 
something quite different. He may be holding that rightness 



INTRODUCTORY 9 

is something indefinable, and merely claiming that that which 
makes right acts right is their tendency to promote pleasure. 
Then he is holding that a non-ethical characteristic, a pyscho- 
logical characteristic, is the ground of lightness but not its 
essence. And if so, the theory, whether right or wrong, is not 
a naturalistic theory; the specific quality of tightness is then 
still recognized as something not reducible to merely psycho- 
logical terms. 

The hedonists have not always been very clear which of the 
two things they meant. Bentham, for instance, seems to take 
the naturalistic view. I take leave to quote some sentences 
from an earlier book of my own. 1 

'He says 2 that "when thus interpreted" (i.e. as meaning "con- 
formable to the principle of utility"), "the words ought and right . . . 
and others of that stamp, have a meaning; when otherwise, they 
have none". And elsewhere 3 he says "admitting (what is not true) 
that the word right can have a meaning without reference to utility". 
Yet as Sidgwick points out, 4 "when Bentham explains (Principles 
of Morals and Legislation, chap, i, para, i, note) that his fundamental 
principle 'states the greatest happiness of all those whose interest 
is in question as being the right and proper end of human action', 
we cannot understand him really to mean by the word 'right* 
'conducive to the general happiness'; for the proposition that it is 
conducive to general happiness to take general happiness as an end 
of action, though not exactly a tautology, can hardly serve as the 
fundamental principle of a moral system." Bentham has evidently 
not made up his mind clearly whether he thinks that "right >r means 
"productive of the general happiness", or that being productive of 
the general happiness is what makes right acts right; and would 
very likely have thought the difference unimportant. Mill does not, 
so far as I know, discuss the question whether right is definable. 
He states his creed in the form "actions are right in proportion as 
they tend to promote happiness", 5 where the claim that is made is 

1 The Right and the Good, 1-*. 

2 Principles of Morals and Legislation, chap, i, para. 10. 

3 Ibid., para. 14. 10. 

4 Methods of Ethics, ed. 7, 26 n. 

5 Utilitarianism, copyright eds., 9. 



io INTRODUCTORY 

not that this is what "right" means, but that this is the other 
characteristic in virtue of which actions that are right are right. 
And Sidgwick says 1 that the meaning of "right" or "ought" "is 
too elementary to admit of any formal definition", and expressly 
repudiates 2 the view that "right" means "productive of any parti- 
cular sort of result"/ 

It is impossible to know what the Egoism or the Utilitarian- 
ism of any particular thinker means, and to pass judgement on 
it, until we have decided which of the two things the writer 
in question means; and since different writers have meant 
different things, and the same writer has sometimes not known 
which of the two he meant, it is not possible to say that 
Egoism or again that Utilitarianism is the name of any one 
ethical theory. Each of the two names may stand for either 
of two theories which logically are quite different, though they 
unite in the general characteristic of laying great stress on 
pleasure in the discussion of ethical questions. 

Up to now I have referred to these various views as views 
that may be taken about ethical characteristics in general. It is 
clear, however, that it is possible to hold one type of view 
about one ethical characteristic and another about another, to 
hold for instance a relational view about 'right' and a non- 
relational view about 'good'; and these views might be united 
in a single system. So that we cannot use this classification as 
a classification of ethical systems taken as a whole; though 
there will probably be a tendency for a thinker who holds one 
type of view about one ethical characteristic to hold a similar 
view about others. Again, it is possible that one type of view 
might be true about one characteristic and false about another. 
From this point onwards, we must consider the main ethical 
characteristics separately, and ask what kind of view is true 
about them. Now the two main ethical characteristics or groups 
of characteristics are those which are designated by such terms 
asjtijght'j /oblig3tory' y 'my duty* on the one hand, and by 
'good', 'noble', 'valuable' on the other. A good many people 

1 Methods of Ethics, ed. 7, 32. 2 Ibid. aj-6. 



INTRODUCTORY n 

are disinclined to admit any clear-cut distinction between the 
two groups, and inclined to use 'good' and 'right', for instance, 
indifferently as applied to actions, .And I should be the last to 
claim that in all our ordinary use of language we draw a clear 
distinction between the two words. What I would claim, and 
I think the claim is very important if we want to think clearly 
about ethics, is that there are two quite different characteristics, 
which, once we have grasped the difference between them, we 
see it to be proper to designate by different words, even if we 
do not always in ordinary speech so designate them; and I 
suggest 'right' as on the whole the most convenient word 
for designating the one, and 'good' as the most convenient 
term for designating the other. That the characteristics are 
different I hope to show later. 1 

1 Cf. pp. 165-7. 



n 

NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

I WILL first discuss the meaning of 'right', and I will begin 
by some discussion of the evolutionary type of view. On 
historical grounds it is justifiable to treat this school as a whole, 
though it has in fact not limited itself to one type of definition 
of ethical terms. It has at times tended to define 'right' by 
reference to consequences to the promotion of life and at 
times to define it by reference to the approval of the com- 
munity; and at times it has tended to define it in yet a third 
way, which does not belong either to the attitude type or to 
the consequence type to define right conduct as evolved 
conduct. 

The evolutionary and sociological school of thought has on 
the whole shown little if any awareness of the distinction 
between two questions which are logically entirely different. 
One is the question as to the meaning of such terms as 'right' 
or 'obligatory', as to what it is that we intend to say about 
conduct when we describe it as right or obligatory. The other 
is the question what is the other characteristic, or what are the 
other characteristics, in virtue of which we describe conduct 
as having the characteristic of being right or obligatory. The 
method usually followed by this school is to pass under review 
a variety of types of act that are commonly called right; to find, 
or argue, that they have some characteristic in common, e.g. 
that of being comparatively highly evolved; and then to assume 
that that is what 'right' or 'obligatory' means. But it is clear 
that, assuming the review of instances to be adequate, and the 
discovery of a common characteristic to be correct, two polssi- 
bilities remain. The common characteristic thus discovered 
may be what we mean by 'right'; or it may be a characteristic 
on which rightness is consequent but which is itself different 
from rightness; not the essence of rightness, but its ground. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 13 

Now what we are considering at present is views as to the 
meaning of tightness, and it is surely obvious that the sup- 
position that 'right' means 'comparatively evolved* is not one 
that can be seriously entertained. If we ask ourselves what 
'more evolved* means, we shall find in it, I think, two main 
elements: (i) that conduct so described comes, in time, after 
a process of evolution of more or less duration, and (2) that 
it has a characteristic which usually emerges in the course of 
evolution, that of being complex, in comparison with the 
simple activities which appear in an early stage of evolution. 
And it is surely clear that neither temporal posteriority nor 
complexity, nor the union of the two, is that which we mean 
to refer to when we use the term 'right* or 'obligatory*. Even 
if it be true that there is a perfect correspondence between the 
characteristic of being right and that of being more evolved, 
such that neither is ever found without the other, there is 
really no resemblance between the characteristic which we 
have in mind when we say 'right* or 'obligatory* and that 
which we have in mind when we say 'more evolved*. The 
claim to have found the meaning of tightness must be com- 
pletely rejected. We are left, however, with two possibilities 
as to the underlying intention of those who carelessly claim in 
this way to have discovered the meaning of tightness, (i) They 
may be thinking that some actions genuinely have the charac- 
teristic of tightness, and that they have discovered another 
quality or characteristic on which this always depends. In this 
case theirs will not be at bottom a naturalistic account of right- 
ness, and there will be nothing in their view which on general 
grounds need be rejected by those who hold that tightness is 
an indefinable characteristic which certain actions have and 
others have not. It will simply be a matter for inquiry in 
detail whether the characteristic of evolvedness is in fact 
that whose presence in an action renders the action right. 
Now to a large extent the coincidence between evolvedness 
and rightness which is claimed to exist may be admitted to 
exist. Let me anticipate the view I will later put forward, so 



i 4 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

far as to say that one of the main grounds on which we regard 
actions as right is their presumed tendency to bring as much 
good as is possible into being for all men, or for all sentient 
beings. Let us accept the general truth of the evolutionary 
account which describes man as having evolved from the 
condition of an animal seeking food and safety for itself and 
for its offspring, but without any interest in any wider com- 
munity, to his present condition, in which many men con- 
sciously seek the good of their whole class or community, and 
some consciously seek the good of the whole human race. If 
this be true, then there will be a tendency for the acts that come 
later in the course of evolution to envisage and to promote a 
wider good than those that come earlier. And if 'more evolved' 
means, not merely coming later in the course of evolution, but 
sharing in the general characteristics that accompany the course 
of evolution, the more evolved acts will tend to have, in com- 
parison with the less evolved, the characteristic of promoting 
a wider range of goods, and will on that account tend more 
to be right acts. 

But even if we admit that the characteristics of being highly 
evolved, of tending to promote the maximum good, and of 
being right tend to a large extent to go together, we must surely 
recognize a closer relation between the last two characteristics 
than between the first and the third. It will be not because of 
the merely historical fact that they come later in the course of 
evolution, but because they share in a characteristic common 
to the later stages of evolution, the characteristic of being pro- 
motive of a wider good, that acts will tend to be right. The 
evolutionary account will be encouraging, in so far as it gives 
us reason to believe that, as time has gone on, actions envisag- 
ing a wider good have tended to become commoner, and that 
the same process may be expected to continue; but it will not 
have thrown any light on the question what makes right acts 
right, any more than on the question what rightness is. No 
particular position in the temporal process, be it late or early, 
has as such any tendency to make an act right. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 15 

(2) So far I have been dealing with one of two alternatives, 
that the evolutionary account recognizes the existence of the 
attribute of tightness and is looking for its ground. But another 
alternative remains. May the upshot of the evolutionary ac- 
count be, not that obligatoriness just means evolvedness, nor 
that evolvedness is the ground of obligatoriness, but that there 
is no such thing as obligatoriness; that there is nothing in 
reality answering to the meaning which we have in mind when 
we use the word obligatory, the only distinction that remains 
being that between less and more evolved acts? This was 
certainly not Herbert Spencer's intention; there never was a 
more serious moralist, one more persuaded that there is an 
objective difference between right and wrong. Nor again was 
it the intention of Huxley ? who in his famous Romanes Lecture 
urged that we are under an obligation to reverse to a large 
extent the tendency of the evolutionary process. Yet there is 
no doubt that in many minds the study of evolutionary science 
has tended to produce scepticism about the difference between 
right and wrong. That has come about in this way. Before 
the evolutionary theory had been put forward, the question as 
to the origin of the idea of obligation had hardly arisen. So 
long as man was thought to be a species standing in no historical 
continuity with the lower animals, it was possible to regard 
the idea of obligation as an original and permanent endowment 
of the human race. But we cannot now refuse to accept the 
view that the human race is historically continuous with lower 
animal species, which we cannot credit with having had any 
idea of obligation. The question of the origin of the idea 
becomes a pressing one, and the position is often adopted that 
either the idea of obligation must be a complex one, a sort of 
amalgam put together by a sort of mental chemistry out of 
simpler elements which we can ascribe to our animal ancestors, 
or that if it is not this, it is a fanciful and illegitimate invention 
belonging to a fairly late stage in evolution. 

To this the answer has often been made, that the question 
of origin has no logical connexion with that of validity, and 



16 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

that in particular the validity of the idea of obligation cannot 
be impaired by any problem as to how the idea arose. This 
answer I cannot accept in its entirety. I venture to quote again 
from my earlier book. 

'An inquiry into the origin of a judgement may have the effect 
of establishing its validity. Take, for instance, the judgement that 
the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. We find that 
the historical origin of this judgement lies in certain pre-existing 
judgements which are its premisses, plus the exercise of a certain 
activity of inferring. Now if we find that these pre-existing judge- 
ments were really instances of knowing, and that the inferring was 
also really knowing was the apprehension of a necessary con- 
nexion our inquiry into the origin of the judgement in question 
will have established its validity. On the other hand, if any one can 
show that A holds actions of type B to be wrong simply because 
(for instance) he knows such actions to be forbidden by the society 
he lives in, he shows that A has no real reason for believing that 
such actions have the specific quality of wrongness, since between 
being forbidden by the community and being wrong there is no 
necessary connexion. He does not, indeed, show the belief to be 
untrue, but he shows that A has no sufficient reason for holding it 
true; and in this sense he undermines its validity/ 1 

The question is, whether evolutionary theories have done 
this. Now the solid fact with which we start is that we now 
have the thought that certain acts are right and others wrong. 
And it seems clear I will attempt to argue for this in more 
detail later 2 that by right and wrong we do not mean 'com- 
manded, or forbidden, by the community*. The question then 
is, how did we come by this thought? Two answers may be 
given. One is that by an exercise of fancy we came to believe, 
without justification, that certain actions have this character. 
The other is that, having up to a certain time recognized only 
naturalistic characteristics of actions, such as that they con- 
duced to survival or that they were commanded by the com- 
munity, the human mind, when it had reached a certain degree 

1 The Right and the GooJ, 14. 2 pp. 24-7. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 17 

of maturity, became able to detect in actions the non-naturalistic 
characteristic of rightness. Whichever account is given, we are 
crediting the human mind with having made at some time a new 
departure either the fanciful invention of a new idea, the idea 
of rightness, or the detection of a hitherto undetected charac- 
teristic of actions. In either case a breach of continuity is in- 
volved, and that involved in the former case is certainly no 
more easy to understand than that involved in the latter. We 
are perfectly familiar with the fact that within the limits of a 
single life a mind may pass from a state in which it is quite in- 
capable of forming certain ideas or of making certain judge- 
ments, to one in which it is capable of doing this, and we do 
not doubt the truth of our mature judgements because we 
were earlier incapable of making them; we do not for that 
reason treat them as mere plays of fancy. We recognize that 
the truths in question say, mathematical truths were there 
all the time to be apprehended, but that a certain degree of 
mental maturity was necessary for their apprehension. And if 
this be so within the limits of a single life, it is only natural to 
suppose that the growth and ripening of mind from generation 
to generation which has taken place in the history of evolution 
was similarly the necessary condition for the apprehension of 
certain truths which were there all the time to be apprehended. 
There is, however, another way in which the work of the 
evolutionary school tends to produce in some minds a scepti- 
cism about moral principles. The studies of the comparative 
sociologists have revealed very clearly the great variety of 
views on moral questions that exists in different societies, and 
this sometimes leads to the belief that there are no objective 
moral principles, but only a variety of codes adopted by various 
communities. And this scepticism is reinforced by the fact that 
even within the same society and as between people of approxi- 
mately the same degree of mental development very different 
views are often held on moral questions. This might seem to 
make the position about moral truth very different from that 
with regard to mathematical truth. Mathematical truths are 

4584 c 



i8 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 

accepted unanimously by those who have reached sufficient 
mental maturity; but mental maturity is no sufficient'guarantee* 
of agreement on moral questions. 

Yet on examination the diversity of opinion on moral 
questions is found to rest not on disagreement about funda- 
mental moral principles, but partly on differences in the cir- 
cumstances of different societies, and partly on different views 
which people hold, not on moral questions but on questions 
of fact. Professor Taylor has pointed out 1 that the approval 
of the blood-feud by some societies and its condemnation by 
others is explicable by the simple fact that in an early and un- 
settled state of society, where there is no proper provision for 
the public punishment of murderers, private vengeance is the 
only way of securing respect for life, while in a more settled 
state of society this is better left to the arm of the law. That 
is an example of the fact that an actual change of circumstances 
may make that wrong which once was right (or at least more 
wrong that which was less wrong), without any variety of 
fundamental moral principles being involved. Or again, where 
there is no variation in the outward circumstances, there may 
be a difference of view on some non-moral question which 
leads to a difference of view on a secondary moral question, 
while the same fundamental moral principle may be accepted 
by both parties. To quote two more of Professor Taylor's 
examples, 2 the difference between those who think vaccination 
right and those who think it wrong turns largely on a difference 
of opinion on the question of fact whether vaccination does or 
does not prevent smallpox, while both parties accept the prin- 
ciple that parents should try to save their children from disease. 
And the difference of opinion between fox-hunters and those 
who condemn fox-hunting turns largely on a difference of 
view as to the comparative intensity of the pain of the fox and 
the enjoyment of his hunters. 

The more we examine differences of opinion on the media 



xxxv (1926), 289. 
* Ibid. 287-8. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 19 

axiomata of morals, the more we shall find them not to depend 
on divergence on fundamental moral questions, but either on 
the different circumstances of the differing parties or on the 
different opinions they hold on ordinary matters of fact. Now 
where a difference of circumstances causes one type of act to 
be judged right in one state of society and another in another, 
no doubt is cast on either moral judgement by the fact that if 
they are stated abstractly, without reference to the difference 
of circumstances, they contradict one another. And where 
different acts are judged right owing to a difference of opinion 
on a question of fact, it is not on the fundamental moral judge- 
ment that is accepted by both parties, but on the opinions about 
ordinary fact which form their minor premisses, that doubt is cast. 

Yet it would be a mistake to regard the differences of opinion 
on moral questions as due entirely to these two causes. For 
while all men are probably at bottom agreed in thinking we 
ought to produce as much that is good as we can, and agreed 
also as to the goodness of certain things virtue, intelligent 
thought, and happiness there is a real difference of opinion 
as to the comparative worth of different goods j and this is a 
difference not on an ordinary matter of fact but on a moral 
question. It is in this region in the comparative valuation of 
things that are agreed to be valuable that the source of many 
of our differences of moral opinion is to be found. 

Yet even if we admit the existence of great differences of 
opinion in this region, that does not really justify the con- 
clusion that in this region there is not an objective truth to be 
known, any more than difference of opinion about ordinary 
matters of fact or about scientific questions justifies the con- 
clusion that there there is no objective truth. The very fact of 
difference of opinion is itself evidence of the persisting con- 
fidence of all of us that there is an objective truth. To find a 
difference of opinion between ourselves and others, or between 
our own ages and previous ages, should weaken perhaps our 
confidence in our own opinions, but not weaken our confidence 
that there is some opinion that would be true. And I think 



20 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

we can go farther than this. We may feel doubt about many 
scientific doctrines which hold the field at any given moment. 
We may think that a new theory may for a time displace an 
older theory which was nearer the truth. But we do not really 
doubt that, in the main, science progresses towards a truer and 
truer view of the nature of the physical universe. We do not 
seriously question that we are nearer the truth about the physi- 
cal universe than were the Greeks, or the men of the Middle 
Ages, or indeed the men of any century previous to our own. 
Individual vagaries of opinion may for a time prevail, but there 
is going on all the time the steady work of men whose purpose 
is to discover the truth, and the truth is there to be discovered. 
It is only natural then that mankind should, though with many 
set-backs, progress in the main steadily towards truer views. 
The same is in a measure true of moral questions. There is 
going on all the time a steady devotion, on the part of many 
people, to the task of discovering moral truth. Individual in- 
terests may often draw us aside from the truth, to over-estimate 
goods that will be enjoyed by ourselves or our class or our 
country, and to under-estimate those that will be enjoyed by 
other individuals or classes or countries. Probably the search 
for moral truth has been more affected by selfish interests than 
the search for scientific truth. But the moral facts are there, 
and disinterested thinking about them is always going on; and 
in the end the facts tend to prevail and to win our assent. And 
this progress goes on not only within individual lives. Each 
individual does not start where his predecessors started. He 
absorbs the new discoveries that have been made in the previous 
generation. Nor is the progress always gradual. Every now 
and then there arises in the course of history a genius who 
discovers some great moral truth which only needs to be pro- 
claimed to be generally recognized; and all who come under 
his influence find their whole moral insight lifted to a higher 
plane. In the main, then, we need not doubt that man pro- 
gresses fairly steadily towards moral truth as he does towards 
scientific. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 21 

There occur, also, periods in which mankind appears to sink 
to a lower moral plane, in which old moral standards are given 
up and moral lawlessness sets in. But these need not disquiet 
us too much. What is questioned in such periods is not, as 
a rule, the fundamental principles of morality but the media 
axiomata, the rules for which no a priori evidence can be 
claimed but which rest partly on circumstances that have ceased 
to exist, and partly on opinions about ordinary fact that have 
been given up. No doubt many people whose nature it is to 
escape from all moral restrictions will turn such a period of 
questioning to their own account. But the questioning itself 
is often perfectly sincere, and springs from a desire to get down 
to bedrock in morality; and this is all to the good. Moral codes 
that will not survive such questioning do not deserve to survive 
it, and those that do deserve to survive it will do so. Magna 
est veritas et praevalet. Acquiescence in moral codes merely 
because they are accepted by the society in which one lives 
spells death to progress in moral insight. The honest question- 
ing of old rules, when it has led to their abandonment, has led 
to the discovery of new ones which have usually been much 
more rigorous, demanding an inner morality which is harder 
to practise than outward conformity to a code. Thus the 
periods in which the old tables of the law are broken form 
no real exception to the general progress in moral insight 
which we are justified in believing to have taken place. 

These considerations have led us rather far afield from the 
study of evolutionary theories of morality, though they arose 
legitimately out of it. I return to repeat that evolutionary 
theories do not seem to have offered us anything that can be 
accepted as a definition of 'right* or 'obligatory*. 

FrOm this short study of evolutionary attempts at defining 
the meaning of 'right', I will turn to the group of theories 
which attempt to define the rightness of action by reference to 
the attitude adopted towards the action by some mind or 
minds. As we have seen, some evolutionary moralists have 



22 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

themselves tended to adopt such a theory; they have identified 
'right' with Approved by the community 1 . But it will be well 
to examine this view, apart from its connexion with evolutionary 
studies, as one among the group of mental-attitude theories. 

Professor Broad divides attitude theories into the two 
varieties of private and public. 'If, e.g., a man holds that a 
"right" action means an action which evokes in him a certain 
kind of emotion when he contemplates it, he is a Private 
Psychological Naturalist. If he holds that a "right" action 
means one which evokes a certain kind of emotion in all or 
most men, or in all or most Englishmen, or in all 'or most 
Etonians, he is a Public Psychological Naturalist/ 1 These are 
clearly two possible forms of psychological naturalism. But 
it seems to me clear that they do not exhaust the possible 
varieties of such a view. For, suppose we confine ourselves to 
views which define rightness by some feeling or emotion roused 
by the contemplation of a given act; a third possibility besides 
the two recognized by Professor Broad remains. I might hold 
that 1 mean by a right act not one which arouses approval in 
me when I contemplate it, or one which arouses approval 
in all or most of some class of beings, but one which arouses in 
the agent, when he contemplates himself as doing it, a certain 
specific emotion, the kind of emotion which we certainly in 
fact feel when we think ourselves bound to do an act. This 
view will be neither private nor public in Professor Broad's 
sense; not private because the person to whose emotion 
reference is made is not the judger but the agent; not public, 
because no reference is made to the whole or the majority of 
any class of beings. 

Let us consider first what may be called the private reaction 
view. This is the view that by calling an act right I mean that 
it awakes in me the emotion of approval. The theory has some 
plausibility, because the thought that an action is right and the 
feeling of approval always go together. We never judge an 
action right without experiencing the feeling of approval, nor 

1 Five Type* cf Ethical Theory, 159. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 23 

vice versa. But the theory is open to serious objections. For 
(i) to begin with, 'approval' is much too wide a terra. We 
approve of many things to which we do not ascribe the charac- 
ter of being obligatory or morally right e.g. works of art. 
We shall have to equate lightness not with being an object 
of approval, but with being an object of a specific kind of 
approval, which we feel towards right actions but do not feel 
towards, for instance, works of art. Now I do not doubt that 
such a feeling exists, that our emotional reaction towards a 
right action is different from our emotional reaction towards 
anything else. But when I consider this emotion, it appears to 
me that it is not just a feeling which arises in us, we know not 
why, when we contemplate a right action. It seems to pre- 
suppose some insight into the nature of the action, as, for 
instance, that it is an action likely to redound to the general 
good, or a fulfilment of promise. It seems to be an intellectual 
emotion, presupposing the thought that the action is right, and 
right as being of a certain recognized character. And if this 
contention is correct, if the emotion of moral approval pre- 
supposes the thought that the action is right, it follows that we 
cannot mean by calling the action right that it awakes this 
emotion, since in order to have the emotion we must already 
be thinking of the action as right. 

(2) Is it not clear that when we call an action right we mean 
essentially that it stands in a certain relation not to a spectator 
considered as capable of emotion in contemplating it, but to 
an agent considered as an agent ? An action is never obligatory 
in the abstract; it is obligatory on a particular person in parti- 
cular circumstances. To say that an act is obligatory is only 
another way of saying that a particular person ought to behave 
in a particular way. It is surely quite clear that what we have 
in mirfd when we call another person's action right is not any 
relation which it has to us as emotional beings, but a relation 
which it has to him as an active being. 

(3) Another objection appears as soon as we consider the 
question of time. If I judge that Brutus did wrong in assassi- 



24 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

nating Caesar, I certainly do not think that his act first 
acquired its wrongness when I began to experience disapproval 
of it, or will cease to be wrong when I have ceased to do so. 

And (4) this view does away with the possibility of difference 
of opinion on the tightness of acts. If all I mean when I say 
'action A is right 5 is 'I have a feeling of approval towards it', 
and all you mean when you say 'it is wrong 1 is that you have 
a feeling of disapproval towards it, then we are not disagreeing; 
for what you say is perfectly compatible with what I say. I may 
well be approving and you disapproving of the same act. But 
it is surely perfectly clear that when I say an action is right and 
you say it is wrong we mean to be making incompatible state- 
ments about it. We might try to get over the objection by 
supposing that I am judging it to be right in certain respects, 
and that you are judging it to be wrong in certain other 
respects; and if this is all we are doing, our statements are of 
course compatible. But if I am judging it to be right on the 
whole and you are judging it to be wrong on the whole, we 
are certainly making statements each of which means to contra- 
dict the other. And this they could not do if each only stated 
the personal reaction of an individual to the act. We should 
then no more be contradicting one another than we do if you 
say you like jazz music and I say I don't. 

In view of these fatal objections to the private view, shall 
we take refuge in a public reaction view? Shall we say that 
when we pronounce an action to be right, what we mean is 
that all or most men, or all or most members of some class of 
men, react to the act with a feeling of approval ? 

The first three of the objections to the private reaction view 
apply equally to the public reaction view. The feeling of 
approval presupposes the judgement of rightness; lightness 
evidently stands for the relation of an act not to any nlan or 
body of men as emotional reagents, but for the relation of it 
to a possible doer; and rightness is not held to belong to an 
act only when some man or body of men is having any sort of 
reaction to it. The fourth objection will not apply. If I say 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 25 

'all or most so-and-so's have a feeling of approval towards this 
act', and if you say 'all or most so-and-so's have a feeling of 
disapproval towards it', we certainly are contradicting one 
another, and a real place is left for difference of opinion on the 
lightness of acts. But then a new objection (40) makes its 
appearance, from which the private reaction view was free. 
I never judge an action right except when I have the feeling 
of approval towards it, but I obviously may judge it right when 
I am not thinking that the whole or a majority of any set of 
people have such a feeling. Indeed, I may judge an act right 
when I think no one but myself approves of it, or wrong when 
I think no one but myself disapproves of it. That is, in fact, 
what happens with every moral reformer when he enunciates 
a new moral principle or denies an old one. Are we to suppose 
that when Wilberforce began to denounce the slave-trade as 
wrong, what he meant was that a majority of Englishmen or 
even a majority of the Clapham sect had a feeling of disapproval 
towards it? The first alternative he could not have thought 
true, and the second was equally certainly not what he meant 
to assert. What he meant to assert was that the slave-trade was 
wrong, however any body of men reacted to it. 

But we still have on our hands the third reaction view. 
According to this, to say that an action is obligatory on so- 
and-so means 'so-and-so has a certain feeling in face of it'. 
Here we seem in one respect to be nearer to the truth; for, an 
obligation being an obligation resting on an individual agent, 
the state of his mind is much more likely to be relevant to a 
particular act's being obligatory on him than the state of mind 
of any observer or body of observers. We may later 1 see 
grounds for believing, not indeed that tightness consists in the 
arousal of any state in his mind, but that the state of his opinion 
about the facts of the case, rather than the actual facts of the 
case, is what makes a particular act right for him. But this is 
very different from saying that the presence of the emotion of 
obligation in him is the tightness of the act. And a little 

1 ch. 7. 



26 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT* 

consideration will show that this cannot be so. For as of moral 
approval, so of the emotion of obligation, we must say that 
it is not a blind feeling that arises in us, we know not why, 
on contemplating a possible act. It is an intellectual emotion 
which arises only when we judge the act to have a certain 
character, say that of producing a maximum of good, and to 
be on that account obligatory. And if the emotion of obliga- 
tion presupposes the judgement that we are obliged, our being 
obliged cannot consist in our having the emotion of obliga- 
tion. It is surely quite plain that the thought that I am obliged 
to do a certain act is not the thought that the contemplation 
of a certain possible act affects me in a certain way as an 
emotional being, but the thought that the act itself is related 
to me in a certain way as an active being. 

We have now fairly considered all the reaction views, and 
have found that none of them gives even a plausible account 
of the essence of obligation. Are the causal views in any better 
position? One of them is the view that for an act to be right 
means just that it is, of all the acts possible for an agent at 
a certain time, that which will procure for him most pleasure. 
This is one form of egoistic Hedonism. It is not the only pos- 
sible form; for an egoistic hedonist might quite well hold right 
to be an indefinable notion, or one definable in some other way, 
but hold that what makes acts to have the characteristic of 
tightness is their having the other characteristic of tending to 
produce most pleasure for the agent. With that variety of 
Hedonism we are not at present concerned. One consideration 
will sufficiently refute the view we are considering. No one 
will have the slightest difficulty in remembering instances in 
which he has thought of some act as his duty, without in the 
least thinking of it as likely to bring him more pleasure than 
any other would. And if the two thoughts are not even neces- 
sarily found together, still less can it be pretended that they 
are but one thought. 

The suggestion that right means 'such as to produce most 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 27 

pleasure for all human beings 9 is in one respect not so remote 
from the truth as the view last considered. The thought of an 
action as contributing to the pleasure of others is far more 
closely associated with the thought of its tightness, than is the 
thought of it as contributing to the agent's own pleasure. But 
it must surely be admitted that there are other things than 
pleasure which we think it our duty to promote for other 
people the improvement of their character and of their in- 
telligence; and even if this were not so, even if pleasure were 
the only thing we deemed it our duty to produce, it is clear 
that the proposition, 'right action is that which produces most 
pleasure for humanity', is not an analytic proposition in which 
we unfold what we mean by 'right', but a synthetic proposition 
in which we express the view that the characteristic in actions 
which entails their having the characteristic of Tightness is their 
tendency to produce a maximum of pleasure. 

I have dealt rather summarily with these theories of the 
meaning of right, partly because the subject has been treated 
very fully and well by Professor Moore, partly because I suspect 
that the issue is not a very live one. It requires only a very 
little attention to what is in our minds when we use the word 
'right', to see that none of these suggested meanings is really in 
our minds. To each of the theories I have discussed there 
corresponds a pair of views, each of which is more plausible 
than the views I have considered. Take any of the charac- 
teristics that have been put forward as giving the essence of 
rightness. It would, in the first place, be more plausible to say 
it must be granted that the mention of this characteristic does 
not state the meaning of right. Right is perhaps to be defined 
otherwise, or perhaps it is indefinable. But this is the charac- 
teristic that makes right acts right/ It would be, for instance, 
far more plausible to say that contribution to the general 
happiness is what makes an act right, than to say that it is its 
being right. And in fact the clearest-headed of the hedonists 
have defined their view thus. Sidgwick, for example, regards 
rightness as an indefinable notion, and there are indications 



i8 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT* 

that Mill did the same. 1 And any one can see that this is much 
more plausible than the alternative. Thus, answering to each 
of the psychological theories as to the essence of lightness, 
there will be a view as to the ground of rightness. And these 
views we shall have to consider when we come to that part of 
our inquiry. 2 

There is, however, another possibility. It may be said, 'Let 
us grant that none of these psychological characteristics is what 
we mean by rightness. These characteristics, however, are 
those which the actions we call right really have. Rightness 
is only a characteristic which we fancy some actions to have; 
and so is wrongness/ I have already, in dealing with evolu- 
tionary views, indicated the main reasons which have led some 
people to adopt this type of view, and shown, I hope, their 
insufficiency. 3 But to point out the insufficiency of the reasons 
which have led people to adopt a view is not to prove the view 
untrue. One can urge that one has oneself a clear conviction 
that certain acts are right and others wrong; and if we believe 
in the fundamental identity of human nature in all men, it is 
very hard to suppose that any sane person is totally without 
such a conviction, which it is clear that nearly all men have. 
But if any one denies that he has it, I cannot prove to him that 
he is wrong in his denial. As a rule, however, he will betray 
himself in one way. He is quite likely, when blamed for some 
act, to say that he is convinced that there is no such thing as 
right or wrong. But when his interests are attacked or threat- 
ened by some one else, his reaction usually convinces one that 
he thinks there are things that other people ought not to do; 
and if so he can hardly refuse to admit that there are things 
that he himself ought not to do. The denial of any distinction 
between right and wrong can usually be seen to be a dis- 
ingenuous excuse for doing as one pleases. But if any 'one is 
prepared to exempt others as well as himself from moral 
obligation, I do not think he can be argued out of his view. 

In fact, however, such an attitude is extremely uncommon, 

1 Cf. pp. 9-10. 2 ch. 4. 3 pp. ij_ alt 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 29 

and much that passes for it is not really of this nature. It is 
not unusual to deplore the present age as one in which the sense 
of moral distinctions is weakening, possibly to its final dis- 
appearance. I do not for a moment believe this to be true. 
Whether the practice of morality is weakening is a different 
question, with which I am not at present concerned; though 
there, too, one may be allowed to express the opinion that we 
are at least as much better in some respects than our ancestors, 
as in others we are worse. What I am concerned with is the 
question whether the recognition that there is a right and a 
wrong is weakening. Take, for instance, one particular question 
about which the complaint is often made the relations between 
the sexes. Undoubtedly there has been a growth of opinion 
in favour of a relaxation of the code which has hitherto 
governed Christian countries. But the advocates of relaxation 
are just as much moralists as their opponents. Both alike think 
that there is some right way of arranging the relations between 
the sexes. And even if some go so far as to say that all rules 
for individual behaviour in this matter ought to be abolished, 
they say they ought to be abolished, i.e. that legislators ought 
to abolish certain laws and that public opinion ought not to 
visit certain acts with its displeasure. No one says 'it does not 
matter what we do about the question; there is no right or 
wrong about it at alP. In fact the difference that divides us is 
not a difference on the question whether there is a right and 
a wrong, but a difference on the questions, 'What are the 
characteristics of acts which make them right or wrong?* and 
'How far do certain types of act in fact possess these charac- 
teristics? 1 The first is a question for ethics, and is probably its 
main problem. The second is a question for applied ethics or 
casuistry. 

It is on our finding of the true answers to these two types 
of question that our attainment of a true solution of the prob- 
lem of the sexes depends. Much will depend, obviously, on the 
nature of our answer to the first question. If, for instance, the 
only characteristic that makes acts right is their tendency to 



jo NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

produce pleasure, that might point to one solution of the 
sex question; if a tendency to promote certain qualities of 
personality is also a ground of tightness, and still more if it 
is a more important ground, that might point to quite a 
different solution. But again, even if it were to be agreed that 
Hedonism is wrong and that there are other goods than 
pleasure, we should still have to ask what kind of relation 
between the sexes best tends to promote those qualities of 
personality. It is by showing that a strict code of sexual 
behaviour in fact secures for actions the characteristics which 
in fact make actions right, that a strict code is to be defended; 
and I do not think that it need fear the results of such an 
inquiry. 

Before leaving the naturalistic attempts to define ethical 
terms, I ought to take some account of a way of thinking which 
has affinities with these attemnts, which has come rather rapidly 
to the front in the last few years. It has not, I think, made as 
yet any wide popular appeal, but it has attracted many of our 
younger philosophers, and bids fair to attract more. This is 
the way of thinking represented by the Vienna school of 
positivists, who found their inspiration in the teaching of 
Mr. Wittgenstein but have developed and modified his views. 
I take as representatives of the school Mr. Carnap and Mr. Ayer 
the Philosophy and Logical Syntax of the former, and the 
Language, Truth, and Logic of the latter. 

Their original inspiration goes a good deal farther back than 
Wittgenstein; in fact they may be regarded as having reverted 
to the. views of Hume. Mr. Carnap 1 quotes with approval 
Hume's famous words: 2 

It seems to me, that the only objects of the abstract sciences or 
of demonstration are quantity and number. . . . All other enquiries 
of men regard only matter of fact and existence; and these are 
evidently incapable of demonstration. . . . When we run over 

1 p. 35; cf. Ayer, p. 56. 

a Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, ad fin. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 31 

libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? 
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school meta- 
physics, for instance; let us ask, Does 'it contain any abstract reasoning 
concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental 
reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it 
then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and 
illusion/ 

'We agree', says Mr. Carnap, 1 'with this view of Hume, which 
says translated into our terminology that only the propositions 
of mathematics and empirical science have sense, and that all other 
propositions are without sense/ 

Stated more definitely, the view is that all significant pro- 
positions are either a priori, in which case they are purely 
tautologous, or else are empirical hypotheses reached by 
reasoning from observation and having a meaning only because 
they can be tested by further observation. It has long been 
matter of agreement among philosophers that at least the vast 
majority of the propositions of the natural sciences are empirical 
hypotheses, not known to be true but rendered probable by 
experience and capable of being rendered more, or less, pro- 
bable by further experience. Furthermore, the positivists, if 
I may take Mr. Ayer as typical, adopt the more sensible of 
two possible views with regard to the testability by further 
experience which is required in order to make an empirical 
proposition significant. He sees that no empirical general pro- 
position can ever be completely tested by further experience, 
in the sense of being completely proved, and adopts therefore 
the more temperate view that the sort of testing of which an 
empirical proposition must be capable, if it is to have sense, 
is a testing which will render the proposition more or less 
probable. 

Mr. Ayer sees that ethical judgements in which we pro- 
nounce something to be good or bad, or right or wrong, offer 
at first sight a difficulty to the positivisms theory that 'all syn- 
thetic propositions are empirical hypotheses*. Ethical judge- 

1 p- 3& 



32 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 

ments seem to be synthetic, but 'they cannot with any show 
of justice be represented as hypotheses, which are used to pre- 
dict the course of our sensations'. 1 He rejects two well-known 
attempts that have been made to exhibit ethical judgements as 
empirical hypotheses viz. the subjectivist theory which de- 
fines the rightness of actions, and the goodness of ends, in 
terms of the feeling of approval which a certain person, or 
group of people, has towards them, and the utilitarian theory, 
which defines rightness and goodness in terms of pleasure. 
These he rejects on grounds similar to some of those on which 
I have already rejected them; 2 and it is unnecessary to repeat 
these. He is careful to point out that he is not 'denying that 
it is possible to invent a language in which all ethical symbols 
are definable in non-ethical terms, or even that it is desirable 
to invent such a language and adopt it in place of our own; 
what we are denying is that the suggested reduction of ethical 
to non-ethical statements is consistent with the conventions of 
our actual language'. 3 Clearly, then, his own theory, which 
he offers in place of Subjectivism and Utilitarianism, is meant 
to be consistent with the conventions of our actual language, 
i.e. to be an account not of what we ought to be saying, but 
of what we mean when we actually do say that so-and-so is 
right, or is good. 

If Subjectivism and Utilitarianism are rejected, as they are by 
the positivists, it might seem that the conclusion to be drawn 
is that 'right' and 'good', and their opposites, are terms which 
cannot be defined naturalistically, and that judgements in which 
we use them as predicates are a priori judgements, judgements 
in which we express not the results of observation but a direct 
insight. But the positivists cannot accept this view, since they 
have committed themselves to the view that all a priori judge- 
ments are pure tautologies and that only empirical hypotheses 
have factual content, and since, as they admit, it is clear that 
when we say that something is right or good, we are not 
uttering a tautology. Holding, then, that all judgements that 

1 p. 149. a Supra , ch. 2. 3 p. 154. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 33 

have meaning are either empirical hypotheses or tautologies, 
and that ethical judgements do not belong to either of these 
types, what are they to say about them? The positivists cut 
the knot by saying that ethical judgements, or rather, those 
most important ethical judgements whose predicate is 'right* 
or 'good*, are not judgements at all, that in them nothing what- 
ever is asserted. There is a minor difference between the positi- 
vists as to what such 'pseudo-judgements 5 are. Mr. Carnap 1 
says roundly that they are all commands that to say 'so-and- 
so is right, or good 1 is to say 'do so-and-so* ; Mr. Ayer 2 
distinguishes 'actual ethical judgements* from 'exhortations to 
moral virtue*, i.e. from commands. 

The theory that all judgements with the predicate 'right* or 
'good* are commands has evidently very little plausibility. 
The only moral judgements of which it could with any plausi- 
bility be maintained that they are commands are those in which 
one person says to another 'you ought to do so-and-so*. 
A command is an attempt to induce some one to behave as one 
wishes him to behave, either by the mere use of authoritative 
or vehement language, or by this coupled with the intimation 
that disobedience will be punished. And there is no doubt that 
such words as 'you ought to do so-and-so* may be used as 
one means of so inducing a person to behave in a certain way. 
But if we are to do justice to the meaning of 'right* or 'ought*, 
we must take account also of such modes of speech as 'he ought 
to do so-and-so*, 'you ought to have done so-and-so*, 'if this 
and that had been the case, you ought to have done so-and-so*, 
'if this and that were the case, you ought to do so-and-so*, 
'I ought to do so-and-so*. Where the judgement of obligation 
has reference either to a third person, not the person addressed, 
or to the past, or to an unfulfilled past condition, or to a future 
treated" as merely possible, or to the speaker himself, there is 
no plausibility in describing the judgement as a command. But 
it is easy to see that 'ought* means the same in all these cases, 
and that if in some of them it does not express a command, 

1 P. 24. * p. 150. 

4584 



34 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 

it does not do so in any. And if the form of words 'you ought 
to do so-and-so* may be used as a way of inducing the person 
addressed to behave in a particular way, that does not in the 
least imply that the apparent statement is really not a state- 
ment, but a command. What distinguishes its meaning from 
that of the genuine 'do so-and-so* is that one is suggesting to 
the person addressed a reason for doing so-and-so, viz. that it 
is right. The attempt to induce the person addressed to behave 
in a particular way is a separable accompaniment of the thought 
that the act is right, and cannot for a moment be accepted as 
the meaning of the words 'you ought to do so-and-so'. 

While Mr. Ayer avoids the crude view that all ethical judge- 
ments are really commands, he agrees with Mr. Carnap that, 
whereas all judgements proper have two characteristics that 
of expressing a state of mind and that of asserting something, 1 
ethical judgements assert nothing, and are mere expressions of 
a state of mind in which we are liking certain kinds of conduct 
and wishing others to behave accordingly. Mr. Ayer's choice 
of an example is rather unfortunate. 'If I say to some one 5 , 
he remarks, 2 ' "You acted wrongly in stealing that money 5 ', 
I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, "You 
stole that money 55 . 5 There is some plausibility in this, simply 
because the word 'steal 5 already connotes wrongful action, and 
therefore the addition of the word 'wrongly 5 may at least 
plausibly be said to add nothing. But let us avoid the use of 
a question-begging term. Let us take the example, In saying 
that which you did not believe you acted wrongly 5 . It cannot, 
I am sure, with any plausibility be maintained that, in saying 
that, I am asserting no more than that you have said that which 
you did not believe. I am quite definitely meaning to charac- 
terize your action further in a certain way. The judgement, we 
are told, merely expresses my personal dislike and disapproval 
of the action; but when this is said it is forgotten that whatever 
be true of dislike, it is impossible to disapprove without think- 
ing that what you disapprove is worthy of disapproval. 

1 Cf. pp. 254-5, infra. 2 Aycr, op cit., 158. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 35 

This denial that when we use such terms as 'right* or 'good* 
we mean (as opposed to expressing) anything at all is not, 
I think, the product of disinterested reflection on such judge- 
ments. It is the product of a preconceived theory about 
judgements in general, viz. of the theory that judgements 
which are both synthetic and a priori, i.e. are neither tauto- 
logous nor empirical, are impossible. For that thesis no 
genuine proof is ever offered by its supporters; we are simply 
told repeatedly that it is manifestly true. In considering whether 
it is true or not, it may be useful to consider the straits to which 
its supporters are reduced in dealing with certain classes of 
judgements. I will take first judgements in which we appear 
to make universal synthetic a priori statements. The instance 
Mr. Ayer takes 1 is the judgement 'a material thing cannot be 
in two places at once*. This, says Mr. Ayer, is not a statement 
expressing any knowledge about the nature of things, but a 
statement about the use of language. 'It is necessary only 
because we happen to use the relevant words in a particular 
way. There is no logical reason why we should not so alter 
our definitions that the sentence "A thing cannot be in two 
places at once" comes to express a self-contradiction instead of 
a necessary truth/ There is, of course, a truth at the bottom 
of this contention. There is no necessary connexion between 
any of our words and the meanings in which we use them. 
The meaning which we express by 'can* might have been 
expressed by 'cannot* (if 'cannot* had not already come to have 
the meaning which it in fact has); and if in saying 'a thing 
cannot be in two places at once* we had meant what we do 
mean by saying 'a thing can be in two places at once 5 , our state- 
ment would have been as obviously untrue as, with the existing 
usage of 'cannot*, it is obviously true. Before we can discuss 
the meaning of any proposition, we must be satisfied that we 
are using our words in the same sense; but when we have satis- 
fied ourselves of that, the question remains whether the things 
we are talking about have the connexions which they are 

1 p- 63. 



36 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

alleged to have; and the fact that with different conventional 
meanings of words the statement 'a material thing cannot be 
in two places at once' might have been untrue throws no light 
on the question whether with the existing meanings of words 
it is not both true and necessary and synthetic. 

I will take as a second example the positivistic view of state- 
ments about the past. Mr. Ayer thinks, in accordance with his 
general view that all non-tautologous propositions are empiri- 
cal hypotheses stating what experiences may be expected in the 
future, that statements which are expressed as statements about 
the past are really 'rules for the prediction of those "historical" 
experiences which are commonly said to verify them'; 1 i.e. 
the statement that the battle of Hastings was fought in io<>6 
is really the statement that any one who makes the necessary 
investigation will get certain experiences which will satisfy him 
that the battle was fought in that year. As against this it seems 
to me sufficient to say that a statement about the past is a state- 
ment about the past and not about the future though no 
doubt a statement about the past may involve consequences 
about the future, and a statement about the future may involve 
consequences about the past. Mr. Ayer claims that those he 
is criticizing are assuming that the past is objectively there to 
be corresponded to, an assumption which he regards as objec- 
tionable. But it is surely clear that, if his opponents' view 
involved that, his own theory would equally involve that the 
future is objectively there to be corresponded to, and that is 
open to at least as much objection. There are reasons for 
thinking that only the present and neither the past nor the 
future are real, and reasons for thinking that only the present 
and the past are real, 2 but it is difficult to think of any ground 
on which it could be maintained that the present and die future 
are real, but not the past. 

The positivistic theory simply falls into a confusion, amount- 
ing to an explicit identification, between what a statement means 
to assert and the evidence which would lead one to believe in 

p. 147. 2 Cf. Broad, Scientific Thought, 66. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 37 

its truth. And this confusion is very far-reaching in its effect on 
the views of the positivists. Their objection to recognizing ethi- 
cal judgements as genuine assertions arises from the fact, long 
known to moral philosophers, that ethical judgements cannot 
be verified by any sensible experience, coupled with the view 
of the positivists that the only synthetic judgements that have 
meaning, i.e. that are genuine judgements, are those that are 
verifiable. Sometimes, indeed, they go so far as to say that 
the meaning of a synthetic judgement is its verification. Now 
the verification, or partial verification, of a general statement 
may be achieved in either of two ways. If the proposition 
states that every A has the attribute B y we may effect a partial 
verification by producing, one after another, instances in which, 
by the use of the senses, particular A's are perceived to have 
the attribute B. And in this case the facts which form the 
evidence for the proposition are the very facts which (and 
others like them) are summed up in the proposition itself. In 
this case the meaning of the proposition may loosely be identi- 
fied with the facts which verify it. But even then there must 
from the nature of things be some difference between that -which 
is verified and that by -which it is verified; and there is in fact 
a difference between the general statement that all A's are B, 
and the sum of the particular statements 'this A is B\ 'this 
second A is B\ and so on. 

It may, however, well be the case that we cannot by the use 
of the senses perceive directly that any A is B. In such a case 
we may be able to verify the statement by discovering by 
sensuous experience A's which have the attribute C, which we 
already know to imply B. In such a case the facts which verify 
the proposition are entirely distinct from the meaning of the 
proposition. Instances in which statements about the past are 
verified can obviously be only of the latter order. And the 
existence of this type of case shows that statements can have 
a meaning completely different from the facts which verify 
them. 

Sometimes, however, the positivists adopt a view less crude 



38 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

than that which identifies the meaning of a statement with its 
verification, and content themselves with saying that no state- 
ment can have meaning unless it is verifiable, or at least partly 
verifiable. As against this form of the theory it seems to me 
enough to refer to Dr. E wing's convincing refutation of it. 1 
He shows inter alia that the positivists could not 'establish the 
truth of their view even in a single case merely by sense- 
experience. For how can we ever know by sense-experience 
that there is not a part of the meaning of a statement that we 
cannot verify? The fact that we do not have any sense- 
experience of such a part proves nothing, since the point at 
issue is whether there is something in what we mean beyond 
sense-experience; and how can we know by sense-experience 
that there is not?' 2 

If it cannot be verified by sense-experience that even the 
meaning of a single statement is entirely exhausted by what can 
be verified by sense-experience, still less, of course, can the 
general theory that all statements are meaningless unless they 
are thus verifiable be itself verified. Thus if the theory is true, 
the sentence which states the theory must be meaningless, since 
it is an unverifiable statement. 'But a sentence cannot possibly 
be true and meaningless. Therefore the sentence in question 
cannot* (i.e. cannot, on the basis of the theory itself) 'be true, 
but must be either meaningless or false.' 3 

I conclude, then, that the latest attempt to discredit ethics 
is not successful. Indeed, there is one of the arguments put 
forward by the positivists which seems to me to provide, when 
reflected on, an argument in favour not only of the view that 
our ethical judgements are genuine judgements, but of the view 
that there are fundamental ethical judgements for which general 
agreement may be claimed. Mr. Ayer remarks 4 that, while his 
theory escapes many of the objections brought against sub- 
jectivistic theories in ethics, there is one which it does not 
escape. This is the argument 5 that such theories would make 

1 Mind, xlvi (1937), 347-64. * Ibid. 349. 3 Ibid. 349. 

4 p. 163. * Professor Moore's argument, in Philosophical Studies, 333-4. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 39 

it impossible to argue about questions of value, which never- 
theless we undoubtedly do. He admits that his own theory 
also would make it impossible to argue about questions of 
value; as he holds that such sentences as 'thrift is a virtue 5 and 
'thrift is a vice* do not express propositions at all, he clearly 
cannot hold that they express incompatible propositions. If, 
then, he is to resist the argument in question, he must simply 
deny that in fact we ever do dispute about questions of value; 
for if we did dispute about things which on his theory we 
cannot dispute about, his theory would clearly be untrue. He 
boldly adopts the course to which he is logically forced, and 
denies that we ever do dispute about questions of value. And 
he justifies this by saying that apparent disputes about questions 
of value are really disputes about questions of fact. 

'When some one disagrees with us about the moral value of a 
certain action or type of action, we do admittedly resort to argu- 
ment in order to win him over to our way of thinking. But we do 
not attempt to show by our arguments that he has the "wrong" 
ethical feeling towards a situation whose nature he has correctly 
apprehended. What we attempt to show is that he is mistaken 
about the facts of the case. We argue that he has misconceived the 
agent's motive: or that he has misjudged the effects of the action, 
or its probable effects in view of the agent's knowledge; or that 
he has failed to take into account the special circumstances in which 
the agent was placed. . . . We do this in the hope that we have 
only to get our opponent to agree with us about the nature of the 
empirical facts for him to adopt the same moral attitude towards 
them as we do. And as the people with whom we argue have 
generally received the same moral education as ourselves, and live 
in the same social order, our expectation is usually justified. But 
if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of 
moral "conditioning" from ourselves, so that, even when he 
acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral 
value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt 
to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue 
with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; 
which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values from 



40 NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT' 

our own. ... It is because argument fails us when we come to deal 
with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, 
that we finally resort to mere abuse/ 1 

It is perfectly true that, when we differ on a question of right 
or wrong, or of goodness or badness, it is by consideration of 
questions of fact of the precise nature of the consequences or 
of the probable consequences, or of the motives involved 
that we try to remove the difference of opinion on the moral 
question. And in doing so we betray the conviction that if we 
could get down to agreement about the facts of the case, we 
should find ourselves in agreement on the moral question; or 
in other words, that though we may differ in our moral judge- 
ments on some complicated case, we agree in our fundamental 
judgements as to what kinds of consequences ought to be aimed 
at and what kinds of motive are good. The more Mr. Ayer 
emphasizes this element in our discussion of moral questions, 
the more he pays tribute to the strength of this conviction; for 
unless we thought that if we could agree on the factual nature 
of the act we should probably agree on its lightness or wrong- 
ness, there would be no point in trying to reach agreement 
about its factual nature. And in the great majority of cases we 
find this confidence confirmed, by finding that we agree in our 
moral judgements when we agree about the facts. But no doubt 
we sometimes fail to find agreement even then. We do not 
find, however, as Mr. Ayer claims, that no subject of dispute 
remains. We find, indeed, that there is no room for further 
argument; when we have come to some premiss which to us 
seems axiomatic, and which the other person denies, we can 
argue no further. But we do not find that all difference of 
opinion has vanished, and that we are left only with different 
feelings, one liking certain consequences or motives and 
another disliking them. We find ourselves still saying 'this is 
good', and the person with whom we are speaking still saying 
'this is bad*. And it is not by showing that argument ceases, 

1 pp. 165-6. 



NATURALISTIC DEFINITIONS OF 'RIGHT 41 

but by showing that difference of opinion ceases, that Mr. Ayer 
could escape from Professor Moore's argument. 

But indeed our adoption of the very practice which Mr. Ayer 
here describes is enough to refute' his account of the nature of 
what are commonly called ethical judgements. He denies that 
they are judgements; he says they are mere expressions of liking 
or dislike. If that were all they are, why argue at all ? What 
should we be trying to prove? Is A arguing to prove that he 
likes the given act, and B to prove that he dislikes it? Clearly 
not. A does not doubt that B dislikes it, nor B that A likes it; 
and if they did doubt, they would adopt quite different means 
of convincing one another, e.g. A by consistently seeking to 
do similar acts and B by consistently avoiding them. What 
they are attempting to do by the process Mr. Ayer describes 
is to convince each other that the liking, or the dislike, is 
justified, in other words that the act has a character that deserves 
to be liked or disliked, is good or is bad. 



Ill 

THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

I PASS now to consider whether any non-naturalistic attempt 
to define 'right' or 'obligatory 5 can be accepted. By a non- 
naturalistic attempt I mean one that defines 'right 5 by a defini- 
tion which includes a reference to some distinctively ethical 
term other than 'right*. Of such attempts I know only one, 
viz. Professor Moore's theory in Principia Ethica that right 
means 'productive of the greatest possible amount of good*. 
And I am bound to say that this seems just as little a true 
account of the meaning we have in mind when we use the 
word right, as are the naturalistic attempts we have been con- 
sidering. Is it not clear that when a plain man says 'it is right 
to fulfil promises' he is not necessarily thinking of the total 
consequences of such an act, still less thinking that the total 
consequences are always the best possible or are even likely 
to be so ? And if some one says 'it is right to do that which will 
produce the best consequences', he does not think he is eluci- 
dating the meaning of the word 'right 5 , but that he is stating 
the characteristic, the possession of which by an act entails its 
having the characteristic of lightness. I need not elaborate the 
point, because, as I have shown elsewhere, 1 Professor Moore 
seems to have given up this view when he wrote his later book, 
Ethics, and to have adopted the view that tendency to produce 
the best consequences is not the essence of tightness but the 
ground of lightness. I think almost every one would admit 
that this is a far more plausible view. 

I think, too, that, since in his later work Professor Moore 
makes no attempt to define lightness, he has presumably come 
to adopt the view that right is an indefinable notion. And this 
is the conclusion to which I am myself led by the break-down 
of the attempts to define tightness which we have considered. 

1 The Right and the Good, 10-11. 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 43 

I believe I have passed under review all the main attempts at 
defining 'right* or 'obligatory*. That they have broken down 
does not prove that every attempt must break down, but it 
creates a presumption that it will. And, indeed, the more we 
think of the term 'right 5 , the more convinced we are likely to 
be that it is an indefinable term, and that when one attempts 
to define it one will either name something plainly different 
from it, or use a term which is a mere synonym of it. 

The word 'right', when used in a context of moral thought, 
seems to me to mean very nearly, but not quite, the same as 
'obligatory* or 'what is my duty*. The first point of difference 
may, I think, be stated thus: In most situations that occur in 
life, there are a variety of claims upon me that I can by my 
action either satisfy or fail to satisfy. There are, or at least 
there may be, cases in which any one of two or more acts would 
completely satisfy these claims, or would satisfy them to an 
equal extent and to the greatest extent possible. Let there be 
two such acts, A and B. Then we should agree that in doing 
either of them we should have done a right act. But we should 
not in doing either of them have done an obligatory act; for 
I cannot be obliged to do act A if act B would equally well 
satisfy the claims upon me, nor can I be obliged to do act B 
if act A would equally well satisfy the claims upon me. My 
obligation in this case is not to do act A nor to do act -ff, but 
to do either act A or act B. In any situation in which there 
are any claims upon me, there is either one act which satisfies 
these claims more completely than any other would; then this 
act is both obligatory and right: or there are two or more acts 
which would fulfil the claims equally, and better than any other 
act open to me would; then all of these are right and none of 
them is obligatory, but it is obligatory to do one or other of 
them. 

Thus it seems that both the question 'What is the right act 
for me to do ?* and the question 'What is the act which it is my 
duty to do?* are wrong questions; the first because there may 
be more than one act that is right; the second because there 



44 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

may be none that is obligatory, the only obligation being to 
do one or other of certain acts. 

Some would deny the correctness of this distinction. They 
would maintain that when there are two or more acts, one or 
other of which, as we say, we ought to do (it not being our 
duty to do one rather than any of the rest), the truth is that 
these are simply alternative ways of producing a single result, 
and that what is right is, strictly, not to do any of these acts, 
and what is obligatory is not to do 'one or other' of them; 
what is right and what is obligatory being to produce the 
result. This answer might, I think, fairly apply to many cases, 
in which it is the production of a single result that we think 
obligatory, the means being optional; e.g. to a case in which 
it is our duty to convey information to some one, but morally 
immaterial whether we do so verbally or in writing. But in 
principle, at any rate, there may be other cases in which it is 
our duty to produce one or other of two or more different states 
of affairs, without its being our duty to produce one of them 
rather than another; in such a case each of these acts will be 
right, and none of them will be obligatory. 

In maintaining that an act may be right without being 
obligatory it might seem that I have reduced 'right act* to 
meaning 'act which it is not my duty not to do\ So to reduce 
it would not be correct. For there may be cases in which none 
of the acts open to me will be in any respect a fulfilment of 
claims, and in such a case we should not call such acts right, 
but indifferent. I have not, however, so reduced the meaning 
of 'right act*; for I have described it as including two moments 
(a) that there is no other act that would more com- 
pletely fulfil the moral claims on us, but also () that any 
act which is right is itself a fulfilment of at least one claim 
upon us. 

I have pointed out this distinction between 'right' and 
'obligatory* because it is, I think, clearly implied in the way 
in which we use the two terms; but it does not seem to me 
very important. The difference is a simple one, akin to that 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 45 

between 'first 9 and 'second to none 5 , of which the former is 
applicable to any competitor who beats all his rivals, while the 
latter is applicable to any competitor who, while he may be 
equal with some, is not inferior to any. Or again, the difference 
might be expressed by saying that in calling an action obliga- 
tory we are implying not only that it is right, but that any other 
in the circumstances would be wrong. 

I propose next to consider Professor Broad's discussion of 
the meaning of 'ought' and 'right*, which I have found very 
suggestive. He begins his discussion 1 by distinguishing a wider 
and a narrower sense of 'ought'. 'In its narrower sense', he says, 
'it applies only to actions which an agent could do if he willed. 
But there is a wider sense in which there is no such implication. 
We can say that sorrow ought to have been felt by a certain 
man at the death of a certain relation, though it was not in his 
power to feel sorrow at will. And we can say that virtue ought 
to be rewarded.' 

On this I would comment as follows. I should agree that 
we often use 'ought' in this wider sense. But I should maintain 
that such a use is not strict. Can we seriously say that sorrow 
ought to have been felt by some one at the death of a relation? 
Only, it seems to me, (a) if we think that it was possible for 
him (and I agree with Professor Broad in holding this to be 
impossible) then and there to summon up a feeling of sorrow, 
or () if we think that by acting differently in the past he could 
have so modified his character that he would now have felt 
sorrow; and in the latter case the proper application of 'ought' 
is to say 'he ought to have so acted in the past', not 'he ought 
to have felt sorrow now'. Apart from such a thought, all we 
are entitled to say is, not that he ought to have felt sorrow 
now, but that his not feeling it is a bad thing, a manifestation 
of a badf character. The wider use of 'ought' is really an im- 
proper use of it, one which we could not seriously defend. 
Or again, take the saying that virtue ought to be rewarded. 
We can say this properly only if we think that some being or 

1 Five Types of Ethical Theory , 161. 



46 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

beings, God or men, can and ought so to act that virtue will 
be rewarded. Unless we think this, all we are justified in saying 
is that an arrangement of human affairs in which virtue is not 
rewarded is a bad one; the specific justification required for 
saying Virtue ought to be rewarded* is absent. 

Professor Broad next, 1 following Sidgwick, distinguishes 
three applications of the word 'ought'. Some people, he says, 
judge that there are certain types of action that ought to be 
done in all or in certain types of situation, regardless of the 
goodness or badness of the probable consequences. This he 
calls the deontological application. Secondly, there are people 
who deny that they ever make such judgements as these, but 
nevertheless judge that every one ought to aim at certain ends, 
without any ulterior motive, e.g. at his own greatest happiness 
or at the greatest happiness of all sentient beings. This he calls 
the teleological application. Lastly, there may be people who 
deny that there are any types of action that are obligatory 
irrespective of their consequences, and also that there are any 
ends which every one ought to aim at, but who would admit 
a third application of 'ought'. They would say that if a man 
in fact takes a certain end as ultimate, he ought to adopt such 
means as will bring it into being, and not do things which he 
believes will be inconsistent with its realization. This Professor 
Broad calls the logical application of 'ought'. 

He next asks how these three different applications are re- 
lated to the wider and the narrower meaning of 'ought' which 
he has already distinguished. He points out that 'ought', when 
used in its teleological application, is used in its wider sense. 
For it is plain that we cannot desire a certain end at will, any 
more than we can at will feel sorrow at the death of a particular 
person, or love a particular person. Secondly, he argues that 
'ought', when used in its logical application, is use3 in its 
narrower sense. For, since we believe that it is within the power 
of any sane person to be consistent if he tries, we believe that if 
he desires a certain end he can, if he tries, adopt the appropriate 

1 Five Types of Ethical Theory, 161-3. 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 47 

means to it. The logical 'ought' is thus a special case of 
the deontological 'ought'. Finally, it is obvious that the 
deontological application of 'ought* involves the use of 
'ought 5 in its narrower sense. Thus the three applications 
involve no new sense of 'ought* but only the two previously 
recognized. 

Now if we have been right in saying that the wider sense 
of the word 'ought' is a loose and improper sense of it, and 
one in which we should not persist in using it when the impli- 
cations of such a use have been pointed out, and if, as Professor 
Broad correctly says, the teleological application of it involves 
the wider sense, it will follow that the teleological application 
of it is an improper application, since it is an application of 
the word in an improper sense. And further, the logical appli- 
cation is also an improper application. It is true that in this 
case one of the conditions involved in the proper use of the 
word 'ought' is fulfilled, namely that we can be consistent if 
we choose, that we can will the means if we desire the end. 
But the other condition of the proper use of 'ought' is not 
fulfilled. For no one really thinks that the fact that a person 
desires a certain end makes it obligatory on him to will the 
means to it; if we think the end is a bad one (or that his 
desiring it is bad), we think that in spite of his desiring the 
end he ought not to adopt the means. Thus the logical applica- 
tion of 'ought', also, is an improper application of it, and we 
are left with but one proper application, as we are left with 
but one proper sense; viz. the application to acts within the 
agent's power to do if he chooses, and imposed on him by the 
moral law. In other words the categorical imperative is the only 
true imperative. When some one uses 'ought' in the teleo- 
logical application he is emptying 'ought' of its real meaning, 
and all* that he has a right to say is that it would be good if 
people aimed at certain ends; and when he uses it in its logical 
application he is equally emptying it of its proper meaning, 
and all that he is entitled to say is that a man who desires 
certain ends can hope to get them only if he adopts certain 



48 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

means. In neither of these statements does the distinctive 
meaning of 'ought' appear at all. 

Professor Broad now proceeds to the relation between 'right* 
and 'ought'. 1 He points out (i) the distinction I have already 
pointed out, viz. that there may be cases in which several 
alternative acts are right and none of them is obligatory. 
(2) He holds that in a further respect the meaning of 'ought' 
is more restricted than that of 'right'. For he holds that we 
tend to confine the word 'ought' to cases where we believe 
that there are motives and inclinations against doing the tightest 
action open to the agent. He quotes with approval Sidgwick's 
remark that we should hardly say of an ordinary healthy man 
that he ought, in the narrower sense of 'ought', to take adequate 
nourishment; though we might say this of an invalid with a 
disinclination to take food, or of a miser. 

Sidgwick's example is ill-chosen. We may know (or rather, 
have strong reasons for thinking) that a certain man has a 
natural liking for food, and that he never has an antipathy to 
food as such. Yet we know that in ordinary human nature, 
and therefore probably in his, there are many other desires 
which may incidentally conflict with desire for food (such as 
dislike of the particular food that is available, or of the com- 
pany in which it would have to be eaten). And, knowing the 
possibilities of such conflict, I think we should not hesitate to 
say of such a man that he ought to take the food that he needs 
in order to keep him fit. And similarly, though we may know 
that a woman's natural love for her child is strong, we should 
not hesitate on that ground to say that she ought to look after 
her child's welfare; for we know that, however strong maternal 
love may be, there are many other desires with which it will 
often come into conflict. In principle it seems that, however 
much we know that an agent has a natural inclination to do a 
certain right act, we can never know that he has not some other 
inclination which might incidentally conflict with that in- 
clination; and therefore that we never need hesitate on this 

1 Five Types of Ethical Theory, 164. 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 49 

ground to describe the right act as obligatory. Some one 
might, however, try to restate Sidgwick's view in such a way as 
to avoid this objection. He might say * Granted that we never 
can know this; yet suppose that in fact a man had an inclination 
to do the act which is right, and no inclination leading him 
towards any alternative act; would not this act then be (although 
we could not know it to be) right without being obligatory? 5 
In support of this he might plead the assumption which we 
comtnonly make that what a man is morally obliged to do must 
be something that he can either do or refrain from doing, and 
add that in the case supposed the agent could not refrain from 
doing the act which is right. 

The assumption that psychical necessity excludes obligation 
is one that should not be lightly made. For in the long run we 
must admit 1 that what a man does he does by a psychical 
necessity, and if the assumption is added to this admission, the 
conclusion can only be that obligation does not exist. We may 
perhaps get some light on the question by considering on what 
grounds, in a particular situation, we should reject certain things 
as not being our duty, however suitable they might be. We 
should reject (i) any act which would involve a metaphysical 
impossibility. When we have done a wrong, perhaps the most 
suitable thing, if it were possible, would be to undo our own 
act; but this we reject because from the nature of things it is 
impossible to undo the past. We should reject (2) any act 
which would involve a control over matter which we are con- 
vinced our mind does not possess. If the only way we could 
help some one we had wronged was by performing an impos- 
sible feat of endurance, we should reject that. We should 
reject (3) anything which would involve an impossible control 
over the state of our own mind. If we hate some one, then 
howeVer right it would be that we should forthwith love him 
as intensely as we now hate him, we know that we cannot by a 
decision effect that result here and now, and we do not (or 
should not) think it our duty to love him now, though we 

1 Cf. ch. 10. 
4584 r 



50 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

should think it our duty to try to mould our character so as to 
love him in time. But (4) if there is any act which we think we 
could do if we desired sufficiently strongly to do it, as in fact 
any act of self-exertion 1 can be done if we desire sufficiently 
strongly to do it, then we do not ask whether we in fact desire 
it sufficiently strongly to enable us to perform the act of self- 
exertion. The very fact that we recognize that the act would be 
right involves some attraction toward it, and we do not ask 
whether this is strong enough, for the excellent reason that it 
is only by our success or failure to do the act that we can dis- 
cover whether the desire was strong enough. Even if there is a 
necessity to do the right act, or a necessity to do the wrong 
act, we never know there is, and therefore there is nothing to 
prevent us from thinking of the right act as obligatory. 

But some one might reply, 'Will not your failure to do the 
act show that there was a psychical necessity to do otherwise 
and therefore no obligation to do that act? and will not your 
success, if you succeed, show that there was a psychical neces- 
sity to do the act, and therefore no obligation?' The fact, 
however, seems to be that even if the occurrence of either act 
implies that we were under a psychical necessity to do it, that 
does not prevent our continuing to recognize that we were 
under an obligation to do the one act and not the other. And 
if that be so, it implies that the sort of freedom involved in the 
recognition of an obligation is not freedom of indifference to 
choose to do or not to do the act, but only freedom in the 
milder sense of capacity to do the right act if we desire suffi- 
ciently strongly to do it. 

Further, it seems clear that in trying to discover whether it 
is our duty to do a certain act, we regard as irrelevant the state 
of our inclination towards or against thedoing of the act; and if 
this be so, the absence of a contrary inclination cannot prevent 
that from being our duty, which otherwise would be our duty. 
The notion of duty or obligation undoubtedly carries with it 
the idea of restriction; but the nature of the restriction is not 

1 As distinct from the effecting of a result; cf. pp. i J3~4> 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 51 

that our duty is something that we ought to do though we have 
a contrary inclination, but that it is something that we ought 
to do irrespective of the state of our inclination. 

Professor Broad next proceeds to state his view of the mean- 
ing of 'right'. 

'It seems to me', he says, 'that, when I speak of anything as 
"right", I am always thinking of it as a factor in a certain wider 
total situation, and that I mean that it is "appropriately'* or "fit- 
tingly" related to the rest of the situation. When I speak of any- 
thing as "wrong" I am thinking of it as "inappropriately" or 
"unfittingly" related to the rest of the situation. This is quite 
explicit when we say that love is the right emotion to feel to one's 
parents, or that pity and help are the right kinds of emotion and 
action in presence of undeserved suffering. This relational character 
of Tightness and wrongness tends to be disguised by the fact that 
some types of action are commonly thought to be wrong absolutely; 
but this, I think, means only that they are held to be unfitting to 
all situations.' 1 

This account has the great merit of connecting the ethical 
sense of right and wrong with other uses of the words. It is 
plain that when we speak of 'the right road' or 'the right key* 
we are thinking of the road or key as fitting a particular situa- 
tion in which some one is placed. The right road is that the 
taking of which fits into a situation of which the other element 
is his desire to get from A to B\ the right key is that his using 
of which fits into a situation of which the other element is his 
wish to unlock a particular lock. It is worth while in this 
connexion to contrast the meaning of 'the right road' with that 
of a 'good road'. Goodness is an attribute which belongs 
permanently to the road or key, so long as it remains un- 
changed in its other characteristics; rightness is an attribute 
which tttey have only relatively to a particular situation and 
a particular need. A good road need not be the right road, 
and a bad road may be the right road, if the one does not and 
the other does meet the requirements of the particular situation. 

1 Five Types of Ethical Theory, 1(54-5. 



52 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

A similar distinction between goodness and lightness in their 
moral applications may be noted. When we examine certain 
emotions, for instance, such as benevolence, we can merely by 
examining their intrinsic nature see that they are good. There 
are others which cannot in virtue of their intrinsic nature be 
called either good or bad, but can be judged to be right in 
certain situations, and wrong in others; e.g. sorrow is right 
when one contemplates the death of a friend, and wrong when 
one contemplates the success of a rival. 

But if rightness in its ethical application shares with tightness 
in other connexions the characteristic of being relational, in 
another respect ethical rightness is quite different from any 
other kind of rightness. What we mean by calling a road or 
a key right can be explained purely in terms of desire and of 
causation. The right road or the right key is that the use of 
which by us will have a certain desired effect, that of taking 
us to a definite place or of opening a definite door. Moral 
rightness cannot, we may say in the light of our previous argu- 
ment, 1 be thus explained in terms of any non-moral relation. 
As Professor Broad remarks, 'the kind of appropriateness and 
inappropriateness which is implied in the notions of "right*' 
and "wrong" ' (i.e. in their ethical use) 'is, so far as I can see, 
specific and unanalysable'. 2 

The thought of rightness as being fitness, in a certain specific 
and unanalysable way, to a certain situation, is one that plays 
a large part in Samuel Clarke's moral philosophy, 3 and forms 
one of the main merits of that not sufficiently regarded 
philosopher. 

It is possible to state more exactly the relation between moral 
suitability and rightness. Suppose we take a case in which 
a man has to choose between two actions each of which would 
bring some good and some evil into existence, and thut action 
A would produce a greater balance of good than action B. 
Then action B will be morally suitable to a certain degree, and 

1 In ch. 2. a Five Types of Ethical Theory ', i6f. 

3 Cf. for instance L. A. Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, paras. 480, 483. 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 53 

in a certain respect, because it will produce some good; but 
we should not call it a right action. Not any and every degree 
of moral suitability will make an action right. On the other 
hand, complete suitability is not needed in order to make an 
action right; for action A will be right although in view of the 
fact that it will produce some evil it is not completely suitable 
morally. Rightness can be identified, then, neither with any 
and every degree of suitability, nor with complete suitability, 
but only with the greatest amount of suitability possible in the 
circumstances. 

The same result emerges if we consider a case in which a man 
has made two promises, and can fulfil either only by breaking 
the other. If we decide that he ought to keep promise A rather 
than promise 2?, each of the actions will have some suitability 
because each will be the fulfilling of a promise; neither will 
have complete suitability, because each will be the breaking of 
a promise. We call right that act which is the most suitable 
of those possible in the circumstances. The other act cannot 
be called right, but only right in a certain respect. 

One has, of course, to consider the question whether suita- 
bility is a genuine genus of which moral lightness is one species, 
or whether we are being taken in by a mere ambiguity in the 
term 'suitable 5 , the utilitarian suitability of a road or a key 
having nothing whatever in common with the moral suitability 
of an action or an emotion. Are the two suitabilities related 
to each other as the 'colourness' of red is related to the 'colour- 
ness' of blue, or as the 'ploughness' of a certain agricultural 
instrument is related to the 'ploughness' of a failure in an 
examination? We surely must say of the two suitabilities, as 
Aristotle says of the different meanings of 'good', that they are 
not an instance of mere accidental ambiguity of a word; yet it 
is hard to find any element of real identity. The most obvious 
suggestion that arises in one's mind is that moral suitability is, 
after all, an example of utilitarian suitability that to say of an 
act that it is right is to say that it serves a human purpose, or 
that it serves human purposes better than any other act possible 



54 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

in the circumstances. Yet I think we have only to examine 
carefully whether that is what we mean when we call an act 
right, to feel assured that it is not so. 1 

I am inclined to think that all that is common to these two 
suitabilities is that both are relations to which we feel a favour- 
able reaction. There is some faint element of likeness in the 
two reactions, in that both are favourable; but we err if we 
therefore think there is an element of identity between utili- 
tarian suitability and moral suitability, just as we err if we think 
that because we never call any thing good unless we have a 
favourable reaction to it, there is therefore a common element 
in the goodness of all the things we call good. 

But if there is no real identity between moral suitability and 
utilitarian suitability, there seems to be another form of suita- 
bility which has an affinity with moral suitability, viz. aesthetic 
suitability. There seems to be something not altogether dif- 
ferent in the way in which a situation calls for a certain act, 
and the way in which one part of a beautiful whole calls for 
the other parts. Here, as in the case of a right act, there is no 
question of subserving an extraneous purpose; there is a direct 
harmony between the parts of the composition, as there is 
between a moral situation and the act which completes it. The 
harmony is not of the same kind rightness is not beauty; but 
there seems to be a genuine affinity, which justified the Greeks 
in their application of the word KO\OV to both. 

If Professor Broad's view is correct, as I think it is, moral 
rightness is a complex characteristic. It includes in it the generic 
quality of suitability, which it shares with the rightness of an 
element in a beautiful whole. And it includes in it the differentia 
which distinguishes it from every form of rightness but itself. 
It is a complex characteristic, just as redness is a complex 
characteristic, including in it a generic and a differentiarelement. 
Now redness, though complex, is not definable; we can begin 

1 R. Price followed Clarke in making considerable use of the notion that rightness 
is 'fitness* of action to situation. But he is careful to point out that this is quite 
different from utilitarian fitness and is indefinable; cf. Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, 
para. 670. 



THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 55 

to define it, when we say it is a form of colour, but we cannot 
complete the definition, since if we try to state what dis- 
tinguishes it from other forms of colour we can only say that 
it is the being redness that does so. In the same way we can 
begin to define moral lightness, because we can say it is a 
form of suitability; but we cannot complete the definition, 
since if we ask what kind of suitability it is we can only say 
that it is the kind of suitability that is tightness. Professor 
Broad seems to me to be right in considering that no further 
analysis of it is possible. 

Now it is to be noted that, whereas we cannot seriously say 
of any one that he ought to have a certain emotion, because 
we do not think it is in his power to acquire it forthwith, 
there is no such limitation to the use of the word 'right'. We 
can still call grief the right or fitting emotion in certain 
situations, for instance, even if we do not suppose the person 
we are thinking about has it in his power to feel grief in those 
circumstances. Its fittingness depends solely on the nature of 
the circumstances and not at all on his capacity or incapacity. 
Thus, while we had to reject the wider use of 'ought* (that in 
which it is used when the capacity to act or feel in the way 
in question is not believed to be present) as being a loose 
use, it is the wider use of 'right' that is the proper use of 
it; although it must be granted that when we use 'right* of 
acts, as opposed to emotions, we usually think of them as being 
in the agent's power to do or to forbear from doing. Our 
common use of the word 'right' is so fluid that, although 
what it naturally conveys is simply the notion of fitness or 
correctness, without implying either that there is only one 
act or emotion that fits the situation, or that it is in the 
agent's power to produce the act or emotion in question, yet 
by usage 'right' is very often treated as equivalent to 'obli- 
gatory'. This is clearly so in the common phrases 'the right 
act/ 'the right thing to do', where the use of the definite article 
shows the first of these implications to be present, and the 
second is in fact also present. 



56 THE NATURE OF RIGHTNESS AND OBLIGATION 

I have spoken of acts as being obligatory, and this language 
is often convenient, for brevity. But it is not strictly correct. 
For consider the situation when an obligation really exists, 
viz. before the act in question, or any alternative act, has been 
done. We cannot then, strictly speaking, say 'such and such an 
act is obligatory 5 , for the act is not there, to be either obliga- 
tory or anything else. Nor, again, can we say c such and such an 
act would be obligatory if it were done'; for clearly its obliga- 
toriness, if it has any, does not depend on its being done. The 
only strict language which we can use in the circumstances is 
'so and so is obliged to act in such and such a way*. In fact, 
obligatoriness is not a characteristic that attaches to acts; 
obligation is something that attaches to persons. 1 

1 This point has been forcibly made by Professor Prichard in Duty and 
Ignorance of Fact \ cf. pp. if5-<$, infra. 



IV 
THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

FROM the question whether the characteristics right and 
obligatory are definable I turn to the question what are the 
grounds of rightness and of obligatoriness. As I have already 
pointed out, 1 to any theory which says 'so-and-so is the essence 
of rightness' there will correspond a possible theory that that 
same thing is the ground of rightness, rightness itself being 
treated as indefinable, or definable in some other way. And 
the example of Bentham 2 is enough to show that it is very 
easy to fail to distinguish between the two views. Logically, 
the two views are entirely different; but in their ethical con- 
sequences they will be the same. Whether you say 'so-and-so is 
the essence of rightness' or 'so-and-so is the ground of right- 
ness', you will be led to the same ethical judgements on any 
act or type of acts; it will be in virtue of their possession or 
non-possession of the characteristic 'so-and-so' that you will 
judge of the rightness or wrongness of acts. 

I remarked before 3 that the theories which specify this or that 
as the ground of rightness are in general more plausible than 
those which specify this or that as the essence of rightness. 
And in one respect this is so. For when such a characteristic 
as 'conducing to life 5 or 'being approved by the individual 
judger' or 'being approved by the majority of some body of 
men' is put forward as the essence of rightness, we have only to 
examine what is in our mind when we say such and such an act 
is right, to see that, however closely the characteristic in 
question may be connected with rightness, it is not the very 
meaning we have in mind when we assert the rightness of an 
act. From another point of view, some at least of the ground- 
theories are less plausible than the essence-theories. For, while, 
until we begin to reflect carefully on our meaning when we 

1 pp. 27-8. * Cf. p. 9. 3 p. 27. 



58 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

predicate lightness, it may seem plausible to say that tightness 
is just the being generally approved, for instance, it is very 
unplausible to say that the being approved is the ground of an 
action's having a quite different characteristic, a characteristic 
of its own, that of being right. 

But we had better consider the ground-theories methodic- 
ally, as we considered the essence-theories. And first we may 
consider the evolutionary or biological theories. An easily 
detected characteristic of them is their instability, their ten- 
dency to turn, on examination, into theories of a different type 
from that to which they appear to belong. Take, for instance, 
Spencer's chapter on good and bad conduct, which he does not 
distinguish from right and wrong conduct. In fact I think it is 
clear that he means rather right and wrong than good and bad 
conduct. For he entirely ignores motive as a source of good- 
ness and badness; but I think almost every one must agree 
that motive is at least the main factor in making action morally 
good or bad, while opinions differ on whether it has anything 
to do with making action right or wrong. Now Spencer's first 
answer to the question what makes action right is that it is its 
being relatively more evolved, 1 and 'most evolved' he explains 
as meaning simultaneously achieving 'the greatest totality of 
life in self, in offspring, and in fellow men'. 2 This, so far, is 
a purely biological view. 'Right' is defined by reference not to 
any psychological state but simply to life. But Spencer im- 
mediately goes on to ask, 'Is there any postulate involved in 
these judgements on conduct? Is there any assumption made 
in calling good the acts conducive to life, in self or others, and 
bad those which directly or indirectly tend towards death, 
special or general ? Yes; an assumption of extreme significance 
has been made an assumption underlying all moral esti- 
mates. . . . Yes, there is one postulate in which pessimists and 
optimists agree. Both their arguments assume it to be self- 
evident that life is good or bad, according as it does, or does 
not, bring a surplus of agreeable feeling/ 3 He expressly says 

1 Data of Ethics (cheap edition), 25. 2 Ibid. 26. 3 Ibid. 26, 27. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 59 

that 'by those who think life is not a benefit but a misfortune, 
conduct which prolongs it is to be blamed rather than praised 1 . 1 
And he sums up by saying 'if we call good the conduct con- 
ducive to life, we can do so only with the implication that it 
is conducive to a surplus of pleasures over pains'. 2 Spencer's 
position, then, is this: action which conduced as much as 
possible to the increase of life would not be right unless it 
conduced as much as possible to the increase of pleasure; 
action which conduced as much as possible to the increase of 
pleasure would be right whether or not it conduced as much 
as possible to the increase of life. Clearly it is conduciveness 
to pleasure that is for him the real ground of lightness. This 
is his fundamental ethical theory. But he holds, on grounds 
with which we need not concern ourselves, that life always 
contains a surplus of pleasure over pain, and that conducive- 
ness to life and conduciveness to pleasure always go together, 
so that he can say right action is always that which conduces 
to life, though he does not really think that it is this that makes 
it right. His fundamental theory turns out to be universalistic 
Hedonism, or Utilitarianism; the apparently biological theory 
turns out to be really a psychological theory. And I believe 
this to be in the long run true of evolutionary ethics in general, 
so that it need not be examined as a separate form of theory 
regarding the ground of tightness. 

We turn then to the psychological theories. The psycho- 
logical theories about the essence of tightness we divided into 
the reaction (or attitude) theories and the causal theories; we 
may consider the psychological theories about the ground of 
tightness under the same two heads. The reaction theories we 
may divide into those that rest rightness on the reaction of the 
individual judger, those that rest it on the reaction of a majority 
of men or of some class of men, and those that rest it on the 
reaction of the agent (who may or may not be identical with 
the judger). The first of these theories will be the theory that 

1 Ibid. 26. Mbid.45- 



6o THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

because an individual contemplating an act reacts to it with the 
emotion of approval, therefore the act in itself has the charac- 
teristic of lightness. This theory is open to at least three objec- 
tions, any one of which is fatal, (i) In the first place, suppose 
that an act is contemplated by two observers one of whom 
reacts with approval and the other with disapproval. Then, 
since the act itself is the same act, we can only suppose either 
that they are not, both of them, grasping the whole nature of 
the act (e.g. one may be contemplating it simply as an act of 
promise-breaking and the other as an act productive of great 
pleasure), or that while both are grasping its whole nature, 
idiosyncrasies of the two men cause them to react in different 
ways to it. In other words, their reaction is due not directly to 
the nature of the act, but to two things in them, their opinions 
about the constitutive nature of the act, and the idiosyncrasies 
which lead them as a result of these opinions to react with 
approval or disapproval. And it is surely impossible that any 
quality of the act itself can be founded on a reaction which is 
itself founded not directly on the nature of the act but on the 
opinions and idiosyncrasies of individual contemplators of it. 

(2) If an act is right because it is approved by A and wrong 
because it is disapproved by B, the same act will be in fact right 
and wrong. But while we might agree that the same act may 
be in some respects right and in others wrong, we do not 
suppose that the same act can be in fact right on the whole and 
wrong on the whole. To think this would be to put an end to 
all ethical judgement. The corresponding essence-theory of 
rightness put an end to ethical discussion because it implied 
that two men who respectively call an act right and wrong are 
not contradicting one another. 1 The ground-theory puts an 
end to discussion because it implies that the two men are con- 
tradicting one another but nevertheless both are right. 

(3) I have not so far urged that the emotion of approval pre- 
supposes a judgement that the act is right, but merely that it 
presupposes an opinion about it in its constitutive character, 

1 Cf. p. 24. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 61 

e.g. that it is an act of promise-keeping or that it is an act pro- 
ductive of great pleasure. But I think that in fact the emotion 
of approval presupposes a judgement that the act is right. 
About this there is perhaps room for difference of opinion. 
Some may think that the emotion comes first and the judge- 
ment second. I am willing to admit that there may be cases in 
which our first reaction to an act is not an ethical opinion about 
it, but a non-ethical emotion of disgust, perhaps simply due 
to its foreignness to our habitual ways of acting and thinking, 
and that this may through lack of reflection lead to the opinion 
that the act is wrong. But it seems to me clear that a genuine 
emotion of ethical disapproval presupposes a judgement that 
the act is wrong, and not the other way about. If this be so, the 
situation we are asked to believe in is this: 'A spectator forms 
a certain view of the constitutive character of the act. In con- 
sequence of that he judges it to be wrong. In consequence of 
that he feels the emotion of disapproval. And in consequence 
of his doing this the act really is wrong/ Thus his opinion that 
it is wrong is made indirectly the ground of its being wrong. 
But it is surely clear that if his opinion is incorrect the act is not 
wrong; and if his opinion is correct, it is correct because the 
act is wrong already; the act is not wrong because he has the 
opinion that it is. 

If, on the other hand, it be suggested that the vital thing is 
not an emotion of ethical disapproval presupposing the opinion 
that the act is wrong, but merely an unfavourable emotion of 
disgust, it would be absurd to hold that in consequence of this 
the act has the ethical quality of wrongness. The only natural 
conclusion would be that acts are not right or wrong, but that 
some of them happen to disgust us and others do not. And if 
any one is willing to adopt this view, I do not think that he 
can b reasoned out of it. But apparently very few people are 
willing to adopt this view. Those who do not think wrong 
the things that most people think wrong, at least think wrong 
the things that most people think right. 

The next theory to be examined is that an act is right because 



62 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

the majority of men, or of some class of men, feel the emotion 
of approval towards it. This 'public 5 theory is exposed to the 
first and the third objection which I raised to the corresponding 
'private* theory the objections arising from the difficulty 
that there is in supposing that any act can have an objective 
character of lightness in consequence of the reaction of indi- 
viduals to it; to this difficulty the fact that many individuals 
and not one are involved makes no difference. The reaction 
of the many is just as much coloured by their idiosyncrasies as 
is the reaction of one individual by his. But in addition this 
view is exposed to the further difficulty that we often judge an 
action to be right when we do not for a moment suppose that 
there is a majority which either is actually approving of it, or 
would approve of it if it contemplated it. A moral pioneer, or 
a man who is being generally blamed for an act which he 
regards as justifiable, no doubt thinks that most people, if they 
knew all the circumstances and judged truly of them, would 
agree with him. But if he does, he does not think that his act 
is right because they would do so, but that they would do so 
because his act is in fact right. 

We come now to the third reaction-theory that an act is 
right because the doer of it approves of it. Those who hold this 
view are, I think, more likely to mean by approval the doer's 
thinking the act right, than his having a mere emotion of 
satisfaction not presupposing this thought. The question then 
comes to be, Is an act made right by the agent's thinking it 
right? On general grounds there would seem to be a fatal 
objection to this suggestion; it appears perfectly impossible that 
anything can be necessitated to have any attribute merely by 
being thought to have it; 1 it does not seem possible that an act 
could have the characteristic of tightness by being thought to 
have it, any more than anything else could have any other 
characteristic by being thought to have it. We may, however, 

1 The opinion that A has the attribute B may in certain circumstances cause it to 
have that attribute; e.g. possunt quia posse vidtntur. But simultaneous necessitation 
is of course something quite different from causation. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 63 

be faced with the indignant protest 'Can it really be right for a 
man to do what he thinks wrong, or wrong for him to do what 
he thinks right?' The view underlying such a protest must be 
one or other of two views; it must either be the view that the 
being thought by the agent to be right is the sole condition of 
an act's being right, or the view that in addition to having the 
other conditions of being right an act must, in order to be right, 
be thought by the agent to be so. On reflection it can be seen 
that neither of these contentions can be true. We must adhere 
to the general principle that a thing's being thought to have a 
certain characteristic cannot be either the sole condition or one 
of the conditions of its having that characteristic. To assure 
ourselves of this, we need only consider the fact that opinion 
must be either true or false. Now if the opinion that an act is 
right is false, the act is plainly not right and therefore cannot 
be right in virtue either of being thought to be so or of any- 
thing else. And if the opinion is true, it is true because the act 
is already right independently of our opinion about it. 

It might however reasonably be suggested that the charac- 
teristic of being thought to be right confers on an act another 
characteristic; that, for instance, the character of being thought 
to be objectively right confers on an act the characteristic of 
being subjectively right, to use language which Sidgwick has 
used before us. 1 This suggestion escapes the general objection 
which has been drawn above from the relation between opinion 
and fact. A thing may perhaps have one characteristic by being 
thought to have another. For instance, an imagined future state 
of affairs may have the characteristic of attractiveness by being 
thought to be such that it will yield a great balance of pleasure 
to the agent; it is plain that its attractiveness depends not on 
the characteristics it will actually have, but on those which it 
is thought that it will have. 

It is plain, however, that if the being thought to be ob- 
jectively right is made the ground of an action's being sub- 
jectively right, Subjectively right' must be given a meaning 

1 Methods of Ethics, ed. 7, 207. 



64 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

other than the being thought to be objectively right; whether 
such a sense can be found, I will inquire later. 1 

I used to think that the protest I have imagined to be made 
could be effectively met by the distinction which should be 
drawn between the tightness of an act and its moral goodness. 
If we are asked 'can it be right to do what you think wrong ?', 
our answer, it seemed to me, should be 'yes, it can be right, 
since that cannot be affected by your thinking it to be so or not; 
but it cannot be morally good, since moral goodness depends 2 
on the goodness of the motive, and your motive in doing what 
you think wrong cannot be good. And similarly it can be 
wrong to do what you think right, but when it is, it may 
nevertheless be morally good, and will be so if you not only do 
what you think right but do it because you think it right. To 
say that when we fail to do what we think right our action 
is not morally good, and that when we do what we think 
right, because we think it right, our action is morally good, 
covers all the truth that lies behind the loosely worded protest 
"It cannot be right to do what you think wrong, or wrong 
to do what you think right' V 

Now, however, I am inclined to think that in saying this I 
was not paying enough attention to the strong persuasion 
which we have that a man who does what he thinks is his duty, 
really does his duty. This persuasion cannot be right as it 
stands, for nothing can have any characteristic merely by being 
thought to have it. But we should try to come to terms more 
closely with this persuasion, and this I will try to do later. 3 

From the reaction theories I turn to the causal theories. The 
only naturalistic 4 causal theory that has ever found much 
favour is the hedonistic one which says that what makes acts 
right is their tendency to produce either pleasure for the agent, 
or pleasure for mankind or for all sentient beings (the latter 
difference being one of detail, and not affecting the general 

1 pp. 159-65. a Mainly, at least; but cf. pp. 306-8. 3 pp. 159-68. 

4 Or rather, apparently naturalistic. See pp. 65-7. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 6y 

character of the theory, while the former affects it profoundly). 
I have already remarked 1 that this form of Hedonism, in which 
productivity of pleasure is made the ground of Tightness, is far 
more plausible than the form previously considered, in which 
productivity of pleasure is put forward as the essence of right- 
ness. But I do not propose to examine Hedonism in detail, and 
that for various reasons. In the first place, I do not think that 
Hedonism has much vitality to-day. Egoistic Hedonism is put 
out of court by the fact which stares us in the face, that it 
is consideration for the rights or interests of others, far more 
often (to state the matter very mildly) than consideration for 
our own interests or rights, that makes us think it our duty to 
behave in a certain way. Whether consideration of our own 
rights or interests ever gives rise to the thought that we ought 
to behave in a certain way, in distinction from the thought that 
it would be prudent or sensible to behave in a certain way, is 
a question to which I hope to come later. 2 But that it is the 
sole consideration which gives rise to the thought of duty is 
too palpably untrue to need serious discussion. Universalistic 
Hedonism, again, seems to me to have been put effectively out 
of court, by (inter alia) Professor Moore's arguments to show 
that there are other things, notably virtuous action, which we 
regard as good in their own right, independently of their ten- 
dency to produce pleasure. To flog Hedonism is, I believe, to 
flog a dead or dying horse. That many people behave in a 
great many of their actions as if they believed in Hedonism is 
true enough, but as a theory of morals it has very little if any 
serious claim to our attention. I do not propose therefore to 
join in the easy game of exposing its fallacies. 

There is a further reason why I may excuse myself this task. 
I believe that no one holds the hedonistic creed unless he 
believed two things : (i) that what makes acts right is their being 
productive of the greatest good, and (2) that pleasure is the 
only thing good in itself. Mill, for instance, describes the theory 
of life on which Utilitarianism is grounded as being the theory 

1 pp. 27-8. * See pp. 272-4. 

4584 P 



66 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

'that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things de- 
sirable as ends'. 1 But it is plain that this is not in itself sufficient 
ground for the theory that productivity of pleasure is the sole 
ground of tightness; there is needed also the major premiss 
that productivity of what is desirable as an end is the sole 
ground of tightness. This premiss Mill nowhere, I think, seeks 
to prove; he assumes it silently. But it is just as much needed 
for the proof of utilitarianism as is the premiss which he takes 
some pains to prove. However much it might be true that 
pleasure is the only good, it would not follow that produc- 
tivity of pleasure is the sole ground of tightness, unless it were 
also true that productivity of good is the sole ground of right- 
ness. The ground of the lightness of acts is rooted, according 
to Utilitarianism, in the goodness of their results; and goodness 
is a genuinely ethical notion, not a naturalistic one. 

It is true that the only reason Mill gives for the view that 
pleasure is the only good is at first sight a naturalistic one, viz. 
the psychological fact, as he holds it to be, that pleasure is the 
only thing that is desired. 2 But it is plain that here again a 
further premiss is needed. That pleasure is the only thing 
that is desirable, or good, can follow from the fact that pleasure 
is the only thing that is desired, only in virtue of the further 
premiss that the only thing which is desired must be the only 
thing which is desirable, or good, and in this the non-natural- 
istic notion of desirable or good is already present. Thus not 
only does Mill's view that productivity of pleasure is the only 
ground of tightness rest on the non-naturalistic premiss that 
only pleasure is good, but this in turn rests on the naturalistic 
premiss that only pleasure is desired + the non-naturalistic 
premiss that the only thing that is desired is the only thing that 
is desirable. 

Similarly, Sidgwick devotes a whole chapter 3 to showing that 
ultimate good consists solely of pleasant consciousness. And 

1 Utilitarianism, copyright eds., 10. 

2 Ibid. 52-3. 

3 Methods of Ethics, ed. 7, iii. 14. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 67 

this would be irrelevant to his main contention, that produc- 
tivity of pleasure is the ground of lightness, unless he were 
assuming as self-evident that productivity of ultimate good is 
the ground of lightness. He is clear-sighted enough to reject 
the reason which Mill gives for regarding pleasure alone as 
ultimately good, viz. that it alone is desired, and candid enough 
to admit, or indeed contend, that pleasure is not the only thing 
that is desired for its own sake. But he is at one with Mill in 
accepting the two premisses : (i) that only productivity of good 
is what makes acts right, and (2) that only pleasure is ulti- 
mately good, premisses of which the subject of the first and the 
predicate of the second involve the non-naturalistic notion 
'good'. 

The position then is this. There is a certain widely held 
view, which we may call Utilitarianism, that productivity of 
good is the only thing that makes acts right. There is one form 
of this view, hedonistic Utilitarianism, which adds the premiss 
that only pleasure is good. There is another form of the view, 
with which the writings of Professor Moore and Dr. Rashdall 
have made us familiar, which holds that other things besides 
pleasure are good. This is non-hedonistic Utilitarianism. 
Hedonistic Utilitarianism cannot be true unless Utilitarianism 
is true, but may be untrue even if Utilitarianism is true. 
Thinking as I do, then, that Utilitarianism in general is an 
untrue view, I am not much interested in the question whether, 
if it were true, the hedonistic or the non-hedonistic variety of 
it would be the true one; and if I can persuade any one that 
Utilitarianism is untrue, he will not wish me to discuss the 
other question. Yet even if Utilitarianism is not true, it is still 
the case that it is one of our main responsibilities to produce 
as much good as we can, so that the question whether pleasure 
is the only good remains a very important question. But it will 
belong to a later stage of our discussion. 

It is Utilitarianism in its general form, the view that our sole 
duty is to produce as much good as possible, that we have now 
to discuss. If we could persuade ourselves that right just means 



68 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

'calculated to produce the greatest good', the matter would be 
simple. But we have seen, I hope, 1 that that contention is not 
at all plausible. If productivity of good is different from right- 
ness but is the universal ground of lightness, how do we know 
this? There are, I think, only three possibilities. Either it is 
known by an immediate intuition, or it is established deduc- 
tively, or it is established inductively. I do not know of any 
attempt to establish it deductively, and I cannot think of any 
middle term which could with any plausibility be used to con- 
nect the two terms in question. The effective alternatives 
appear to be intuition and induction. I will first ask whether 
the proposition has been established inductively. I take leave 
to quote some sentences from The Right and the Good. 

'Such an enquiry, to be conclusive, would have to be very thorough 
and extensive. We should have to take a large variety of the acts 
which we, to the best of our ability, judge to be right. We should 
have to trace as far as possible their consequences, not only for the 
persons directly affected but also for those indirectly affected; and 
to these no limit can be set. To make our inquiry thoroughly con- 
clusive, we should have to do what we cannot do, viz. trace these 
consequences into an unending future. And even to make it reason- 
ably conclusive, we should have to trace them far into the future. 
It is clear that the most we could possibly say is that a large variety 
of typical acts that are judged right appear, so far as we can trace 
their consequences, to produce more good than any other acts 
possible to the agents in the circumstances. And such a result is far 
short of proving the constant connexion of the two attributes. But 
it is surely clear that no inductive inquiry justifying even this result 
has ever been carried through. The advocates of utilitarian systems 
have been so much persuaded either of the identity or of the self- 
evident connexion of the attributes "right" and "optimific" (or 
"felicific") that they have not attempted even such an inductive 
inquiry as is possible/ 2 '* 

It is clear, too, that even if we could establish inductively 
that all optimific acts are right and all right acts optimific, that 
would not establish that their being optimific is the ground of 

1 Cf. p. 42. 2 The Right andth* GooJ, 36. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 69 

their tightness, which is the proposition we are inquiring into. 
If we have only proved that the two attributes always go to- 
gether, that is not enough. We should have to show that all 
right acts not only are optimific but are right because they are 
optimific. I do not mean to insist that it should be shown that 
unreflective people always reach their judgement that an act is 
right because they first judge it to be optimific. To this demand 
the utilitarian would have a perfectly proper answer. He would 
say, 'Certain types of act have been in practice found to be 
optimific, and have in consequence been judged to be right; 
and so, for plain men, the character of Tightness has come to 
seem to belong to such acts directly, in virtue of their being, 
e.g. fulfilments of promise, and the middle term which estab- 
lished their lightness has come to be forgotten. Media axio- 
mata such as "men should keep their promises 5 ' have come to 
be accepted as if they were self-evidently true, and people 
habitually judge acts to be right on the strength of the media 
axiomata, forgetting the method by which the media axiomata 
have themselves been established'. That is a fair answer. The 
test I would prefer to impose is a different one, viz. this: when 
we reflect, do we really come to the conclusion that such an act 
as promise-keeping owes its lightness to its tendency to produce 
maximum good, or to its being an act of promise-keeping? 

It seems clear that Utilitarianism has not established induc- 
tively that being optimific is always the ground of lightness, 
and as a rule utilitarians have not attempted to do so. The 
reason is simple: it is because it has seemed to them self- 
evident that this is the only possible ground of rightness. 
Professor Moore definitely says that for him the principle is 
self-evident. 1 For my part, I can find no self-evidence about it. 
And I think I can point to several facts which tell against its 
truth, and to some which tell against there being even a con- 
stant correspondence between the two attributes, optimificness 
and rightness. 

(i) Professor Broad has pointed out one such difficulty. 

1 Ethics, 168-9. 



70 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

Utilitarians hold that pleasure is either the only good, or is 
at least a good; and in the latter assertion most people would 
be, with certain qualifications, in agreement with them. Then, 
if any other consequences that an act may have be abstracted 
from, utilitarians are bound to say that an act which produces 
the greatest possible amount of pleasure is the right or obliga- 
tory act. Now, Professor Broad points out, 

'among the things which we can to some extent influence by our 
actions is the number of minds which shall exist, or, to be more 
cautious, which shall be embodied at a given time. It would be 
possible to increase the total amount of happiness in a community 
by increasing the numbers of that community even though one 
thereby reduced the total happiness of each member of it. If Utili- 
tarianism be true it would be one's duty to try to increase the 
numbers of a community, even though one reduced the average 
total happiness of the members, so long as the total happiness in the 
community would be in the least increased. It seems perfectly plain 
to me that this kind of action, so far from being a duty, would quite 
certainly be wrong/ 1 

His criticism appears to be clearly justified. We should not 
merely not judge that such action was right because it was opti- 
mific; we should judge that it was wrong although it was 
optimific. It already begins to become clear that it is not our 
duty to increase to the utmost the total happiness, irrespective 
of how the happiness is distributed. 

Professor Broad does not apply his argument to any other 
good than pleasure; for it is hedonistic Utilitarianism that he 
is criticizing. But the same argument will apply to any other 
form of good, say virtuous action or intelligent thought. The 
utilitarian doctrine involves that all goods are commensurable 
that, for instance, in any two virtuous acts there must be 
different quantities of good which are in a certain ratio to each 
other, even if we cannot detect the ratio. And a utilitarian 
should maintain that it is self-evident that if we had to choose 
between promoting the existence of a certain amount of virtue 

1 Five Types of Ethical Theory, 249-50. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 71 

and intelligence spread out very thin among a certain popu- 
lation, and a slightly smaller amount concentrated in a much 
smaller population (whose average virtue and intelligence 
would therefore be greater), we ought to choose the former. 
But it is clear to me that this is far from self-evident. 

Thus we have already a principle which theoretically at any 
rate is capable of coming into conflict with the principle of 
producing the greatest total amount of good, viz. the principle 
which bids us concentrate good in a population of high average 
virtue and intelligence, rather than spread it out over a popu- 
lation of low average virtue and intelligence, if the choice ever 
lay between these alternatives. 

(2) Consider now a case in which the size of the population 
is not assumed to be alterable by anything we can do. If the 
essential utilitarian principle is true, that productivity of 
maximum good is the sole ground of rightness, it ought to be 
quite indifferent how an 'extra dose' 1 of happiness should be 
distributed among the population, provided the total amount 
of the dose is unaltered. It would be morally just the same 
whether A is made very happy and B only very slightly happy, 
or whether A and B are both made rather happy, provided that 
the net gain in happiness for A and B taken together were 
equal in both cases. Now if A and B are people of equal 
moral worth, we do not really think that it would be right to 
distribute happiness unequally between them. Sidgwick, while 
criticizing some of our supposed intuitions of justice, has the 
candour to admit that there is one principle of justice that is 
axiomatic, viz. that of impartiality in the application of general 
rules. 2 This, in its application to the case we are considering, 
can only mean that it is not morally indifferent how we divide 
an extra dose of happiness between two individuals, but that 
in the absence of some relevant difference between them it 
should be equally divided between them. But though Sidgwick 
recognizes the 'principle of justice* alongside of the 'principle 
of rational benevolence' (that which commands us to produce 

1 Ibid. 251. * MtthoJs of Ethics, ed 7, 380. 



72 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

the maximum of good), he seems to assign to it a subordinate 
position. He would still, I think, say that if we can produce a 
greater total extra dose of happiness by giving much to A and 
little to , than by giving the same amount to both, we ought 
to do so. This, however, is a half-way house at which we 
cannot stop. The principle of justice in the distribution of 
happiness can in no way be derived from the principle bidding 
us produce the greatest total of happiness. If it is true, as Sidg- 
wick holds, then it is independent of the greatest happiness 
principle; and if it is independent of it, it is capable of coming 
into conflict with it. And where it does, I believe we should all 
judge that it would be rather our duty to produce a smaller 
increase of total happiness, fairly divided between individuals, 
than a slightly larger increase, very unfairly divided. Further- 
more, I think we should judge not only that there is an inde- 
pendent moral principle bidding us divide happiness equally 
between people of equal moral worth, but also that the same 
principle bids us divide it, so far as we can, unequally between 
people of unequal moral worth. This appears to me just as 
axiomatic as the principle which bids us promote the general 
happiness, 01 (more widely) the general good. 

(3) A further difficulty for utilitarians arises when we con- 
sider the distribution of pleasure between the agent and any one 
else. For utilitarians, it is always a duty for me to produce a 
greater pleasure for myself rather than a smaller pleasure for 
another (except of course where the ulterior consequences of 
the two acts would weigh the balance in favour of the latter act 
but we can ignore this complication). Now the plain truth 
seems to be that we never judge so in fact. It seems to me that 
if we are honest with ourselves, which in a matter affecting 
us so closely it is hard to be, we shall find that we never really 
think ourselves morally bound to do an act which will increase 
our own pleasure, except for some ulterior reason, e.g. where 
we think that the pleasurable experience will fit us to do our 
work better, or that the relinquishing it to another person 
will tend to have a bad effect on his character. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 73 

Of these three difficulties for utilitarianism, arising out of 
the distribution of good, the first two may be dealt with in 
either of two ways. We may say (a) that quite apart from the 
duty to produce as much good as possible, there is an inde- 
pendent duty to produce a concentration of good in a smaller 
number of persons rather than a distribution of an equal amount 
of it among a larger number, and another independent duty to 
distribute happiness in proportion to merit. Or we may say 
() that the concentration of good in a smaller number of 
persons is itself a good, a good of higher order, 1 as it were, 
than the good (consisting, say, of virtuous action, intelligent 
thought, and pleasure) which is thus concentrated; and simi- 
larly that the enjoyment of happiness in proportion to merit is 
itself a good of higher order than the happiness and the merit 
themselves. In this case the duty to produce such concentra- 
tions or such distributions will fall under the general duty of 
producing good; and our criticism of Utilitarianism will be, 
so far, less radical than in the other case. We shall not have 
established a duty other than the duty of producing good. We 
shall simply have shown that Utilitarianism in naming virtuous 
action, intelligent thought, and pleasure as the things that are 
good has overlooked two important goods of higher order. 

It is difficult to choose between these two views. On the 
whole I incline towards the latter. It seems to me that the 
existence of a greater concentration of good is not only some- 
thing in which we should in fact take greater satisfaction than 
in the wider and thinner distribution of the same total amount 
of good, but something in which it is reasonable to take satisfac- 
tion, i.e. is a greater good. 2 And similarly I think it is reasonable 
to take satisfaction in a distribution of happiness in proportion 
to merit rather than in a distribution not in proportion to 
merit. * If we had before us in imagination two communities in 
which the total amounts of virtue and of happiness were equal, 
but in one the good were happy and the bad wretched, and in 

1 In a mathematical, not in a moral sense. 

2 For this sense of good cf. pp. 271-6, 278-9. 



74 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

the other the bad were happy and the good were wretched, 
I think it would be reasonable to say that the state of the first 
community is a better state than that of the second, and one 
which on that ground we ought to do our best to bring about 
rather than the other. 

In answer to the third objection also, a utilitarian might be 
tempted to say that a good of higher order is involved. He 
might say that the enjoyment of pleasure by a man as a result 
of another man's action is a good of higher order, while the 
enjoyment of pleasure by a man as a result of his own action is 
not such a good. It is clear, however, that this is not true. 
Suppose that A, desiring to produce pleasure for -ff, produces 
it for himself, and that B, desiring to produce pleasure for him- 
self, produces it for A. No one thinks A's enjoyment in the first 
case less of a good than his enjoyment in the second, though in 
the first it has been produced by himself and in the second by B. 

The utilitarian might then seek to amend his suggestion by 
saying 'the enjoyment of pleasure by a man as a result of another 
man's action directed to that end is a good of higher order, 
while the enjoyment of pleasure by a man as a result of his own 
action directed to that end is not such a good, and that is why 
it is a duty to produce pleasure for others and not a duty to 
produce it for oneself*. But he is not entitled to make this 
amendment. For on his own showing the duty of doing an act 
depends on the results produced, or (according to a different 
form of the theory) on the results intended; and he is not 
entitled to reckon a difference between the two motives as a 
difference in the results produced or intended. 

Yet here also our argument does not necessarily point to a 
duty quite distinct from that of producing a maximum of good. 
For, while for a third person the enjoyment of pleasure by A is 
the same kind of thing as its enjoyment by j, A's own pleasure 
stands in quite a different relation to A from that in which JB's 
pleasure stands to A. There is at least some ground for think- 
ing that for A they may be good only in quite different senses 
of 'good', 2?'s pleasure being for A a morally suitable object 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 75 

of satisfaction, and A's pleasure being for A only an inevitable 
object of satisfaction, having nothing morally suitable or un- 
suitable about it. 1 If this be the true account, the hard fact (one 
of the most certain facts in morals) that we have a duty to pro- 
duce pleasure for others, and have not a duty to produce it for 
ourselves, will involve us in admitting that it is only things 
that are good in the sense of being morally suitable objects of 
satisfaction, and not those that are good in the sense 2 of being 
inevitable but morally neutral objects of satisfaction, that we 
have a duty to produce. 

I pass now to an objection connected not with the distribu- 
tion of pleasure but with the fact that we may by our action 
produce pleasure for some people and pain for others. 
On the utilitarian view, to each dose of pleasure there is 
some dose of pain that is exactly equal. The one may be 
represented by +**, the other by x. Now for a utilitarian it 
is morally indifferent whether by your act you produce x units 
of pleasure for A and inflicty units of pain on y or confer x y 
units of pleasure on one of them, since in each case you produce 
a net increment of x y units of pleasure. But we should in 
fact, I think, always judge that the infliction of pain on any 
person is justified only by the conferment not of an equal but 
of a substantially greater amount of pleasure on some one else 
(assuming the persons to be of equal worth). We do not, in 
fact, think that persons other than ourselves are simply so many 
pawns in the game of producing the maximum of pleasure, or 
good. We think they have definite rights, or at least claims, 
not to be made means to the giving of pleasure to others; and 
claims that ought to be respected unless the net pleasure, or 
good, to be gained for the community by other action is very 
considerable. We think the principle 'do evil to no one' more 
pressing than the principle 'do good to every one', except when 
the evil is very substantially outweighed by the good. This 
consideration seems to be perfectly clear, and it is strange that 
it has been overlooked by the utilitarians. 

1 Cf. pp. 272-9. 2 If this Is a legitimate sense of 'good* at all; cf. pp. 284-5. 



76 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

I pass next to a group of difficulties for Utilitarianism arising 
from our sense of special duties towards individuals, based on 
special relations between them and the agent. These seem to 
fall under three general heads. There is first the sense which 
we all possess that we have a special duty to make compensation 
to any one for any wrong we have done him. When I have 
wronged some one, he has ceased to be merely what Utilitarian- 
ism regards him as being, one out of many possible recipients 
or receptacles of good, between whom the choice is to be made 
simply on the basis of the question how the maximum good is 
to be achieved. He has become some one with a special claim on 
my effort, over and above the claim which all men have to my 
beneficence. 

There is similarly the claim which those have from whom we 
have accepted benefits in the past. This again is a claim which, 
in fact, I believe every one recognizes, and it is evident that it is 
on it that our special duty to parents and friends in the main 
depends. 

These two responsibilities the responsibility for compen- 
sation and for rendering good for good arise incidentally 
from past actions having another purpose. But, thirdly, there 
are obligations arising from acts whose express object was to 
create them. Our name for these acts is 'promises'; a promise 
is just the voluntary making of something obligatory on us 
which would not, or need not, have been obligatory before. 
To make this clear, we must in the first place distinguish (as we 
do, more or less clearly, in ordinary life) between the making 
of a promise and the announcement of an intention. There are 
cases in which it is difficult to know whether some one is making 
a promise or is merely announcing an intention; but that does 
not affect the fact that the two things are in principle quite 
different. As Sidgwick remarks, If I merely assert my inten- 
tion of abstaining from alcohol for a year, and then after a week 
take some, I am (at worst) ridiculed as inconsistent; but if I 
have pledged myself to abstain, I am blamed as untrustworthy/ 1 

1 Methods of Ethics, 304. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 77 

The announcement of an intention is merely a statement about 
one's present state of mind; a promise is a statement about the 
future. But, secondly, not every statement about one's own 
behaviour in the future is a promise. If I merely say incident- 
ally in conversation with some one that I shall be at a certain 
place at a certain time, that does not constitute a promise to be 
there. To make a promise, there must be a more or less clear 
intimation to another person that he can rely upon me to do 
something which he, at least, regards as a service to him. The 
difference between this and a mere statement about the future 
can be seen from the fact that when I have merely made a state- 
ment about the future, what he relies upon, if he expects me 
to fulfil it, is my unchangeability, while, when I make a promise, 
what he relies upon is my sense of duty. 

A promise being this, an intentional intimation to some one 
else that he can rely upon me to behave in a certain way, it 
appears to me perfectly clear, that, quite apart from any question 
of the greatness of the benefits to be produced for him or for 
society by the fulfilment of the promise, a promise gives rise 
to a moral claim on his part that the promise be fulfilled. This 
claim will be enhanced if there are great benefits that will arise 
from the fulfilment of the promise in contrast to its violation; 
or it may be overridden if the fulfilment of the promise is likely 
to do much more harm than good. But through all such varia- 
tions it remains as a solid fact in the moral situation; and it 
arises solely from the fact that a promise has been made, and 
not from the consequences of its fulfilment. I would go so far 
as to say that the existence of an obligation arising from the 
making of a promise is so axiomatic that no moral universe can 
be imagined in which it would not exist. 

These seem to me to be the main difficulties in the way of 
accepting Utilitarianism as a complete ethical creed; these are 
the principles of duty which seem to emerge as distinct from 
the principle 'promote the maximum good 5 . 

I may be allowed to reinforce these criticisms of Utilitarian- 
ism by quoting some words from the most sagacious, if not the 



78 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

most consistent or systematic, of the British Moralists. In his 
ripest work on ethics, the Dissertation on the Nature of Virtue? 
Butler indicates more clearly than in the Sermons his distrust of 
the view which treats zeal for the general good as the only virtue. 

'Without inquiring', he says, 'how far, and in what sense, virtue is 
resolvable into benevolence, and vice into the want of it; it may be 
proper to observe, that benevolence, and the want of it, singly con- 
sidered, are in no sort the whole of virtue and vice. For if this were 
the case, in the review of one's own character, or that of others, our 
moral understanding and moral sense would be indifferent to every 
thing, but the degrees in which benevolence prevailed, and the 
degrees in which it was wanting. That is, we should neither approve 
of benevolence to some persons rather than to others, nor disapprove 
injustice and falsehood upon any other account, than merely as an 
overbalance of happiness was foreseen likely to be produced by the 
first, and of misery by the second. But now, on the contrary, sup- 
pose two men competitors for any thing whatever, which would be 
of equal advantage to each of them: though nothing indeed would 
be more impertinent, than for a stranger to busy himself to get one 
of them preferred to the other; yet such endeavour would be virtue, 
in behalf of a friend or benefactor, abstracted from all consideration 
of distant consequences: as that examples of gratitude, and the 
cultivation of friendship, would be of general good to the world. 
Again, suppose one man should, by fraud or violence, take from 
another the fruit of his labour, with intent to give it to a third, who 
he thought would have as much pleasure from it as would balance 
the pleasure which the first possessor would have had in the enjoy- 
ment, and his vexation in the loss of it; suppose also that no bad con- 
sequences would follow; yet such an action would surely be vicious. 
Nay, farther, were treachery, violence and injustice, no otherwise 
vicious, than as foreseen likely to produce an overbalance of misery 
to society; then, if in any case a man could procure to himself as great 
advantage by an act of injustice, as the whole foreseen inconvenience, 
likely to be brought upon others by it, would amount to; such a 
piece of injustice would not be faulty or vicious at all: because it 
would be no more than, in any other case, for a man to prefer his 
own satisfaction to another's in equal degrees. 

1 The Works of Joseph ButUr (Gladstone's edition), i. 334-7. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 79 

'The fact then appears to be, that we are constituted so as to 
condemn falsehood, unprovoked violence, injustice, and to approve 
of benevolence to some preferably to others, abstracted from all 
consideration, which conduct is likeliest to produce an overbalance 
of happiness or misery. And therefore, were the Author of nature to 
propose nothing to himself as an end but the production of happi- 
ness, were his moral character merely that of benevolence; yet ours 
is not so. ... The happiness of the world is the concern of him, who 
is the Lord and the Proprietor of it: nor do we know what we are 
about,, when we endeavour to promote the good of mankind in 
any ways, but those which he has directed; that is indeed in all 
ways not contrary to veracity and justice/ 

These weighty words of Butler's answer better to what we 
really think on moral questions, than a theory which makes the 
production of good at all costs the only duty. 

The fact is that Utilitarianism is a product of the craving for 
a simple creed, and that the facts of the moral life are too com- 
plex to fit into its scheme. If the root idea of Tightness is suit- 
ability to the situation, there is not the slightest reason to anti- 
cipate that the only way in which an act can be right, i.e. fit a 
situation, is by being likely to amend it to the greatest possible 
extent; it may fit it no less by harmonizing with existing 
features of the situation, such as the existence of a claim to the 
fulfilment of a promise. 

I must discuss at this point Professor Broad's view on this 
matter. He is dissatisfied, as I am, both with Utilitarianism 
(whether hedonistic or agathistic) and with out-and-out Intui- 
tionism. He sees that such an act as the fulfilling of a promise 
has a tendency to be right which does not arise from a ten- 
dency to promote the general good, but from the fact that a 
promise has been made. He sees, on the other hand, that it 
cannot *be maintained, with out-and-out Intuitionism, that all 
promises should be kept irrespectively of the consequences. 
He therefore puts forward the following analysis: 

'We have to distinguish two quite different ethical features of the 
action x, viz., its fittingness or unfittingness to the total course of 



8o THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

events as modified by it, and its utility or disutility. . . . Fittingness 
or unfittingness is a direct ethical relation between an action or 
emotion and the total course of events in which it takes place. As 
this course of events consists of a number of successive phases, it is 
possible that a certain action may be fitting to some of the phases and 
unfitting to others. In particular it might be "immediately fitting", 
i.e. it might be appropriate to the initial phase F l9 but it might be 
unfitting to some or all of the later modified phases F^ etc. Again, 
since each phase is itself complex, the action might be fitting 
to certain factors of a certain phase but unfitting to other factors 
of that phase. It is quite easy to give examples. If I am asked a 
certain question and answer it in a certain way I may be answering 
that question truly but my answer may lead to subsequent false 
inferences. It might then be said that this answer was fitting to the 
initial phase, but was unfitting to subsequent phases in the course of 
events as modified by it. It would then become a question whether 
a true answer, or a lie, or silence was the most fitting action on the 
whole, given the initial phase. The second complication may be 
illustrated as follows. I may be an elector to an office, and one of 
the candidates may have done me a service. To prefer him to a 
better qualified candidate would fit one aspect of the situation, 
since it would be rewarding a benefactor; but it would be unfitting 
to other factors in the situation, since it would be an act of bad faith 
to the institution which was employing me as an elector and an act 
of injustice to the other candidates. The statement that "x is more 
fitting to be done in the situation F^ than y is" means that x is more 
fitting to the whole course of events F l F\ . . . F% thany is to the 
whole course of events F 1 F^... F y n . The fittingness of an act to a 
whole course of events will be a function of its fittingness or unfit- 
tingness to each phase in the series, and its fittingness to any phase 
in the series will be a function of its fittingness or unfittingness to 
each factor or aspect of that phase/ 1 

Having explained the fittingness of an action, he proceeds to 
consider its utility, and defines it thus: 

4 The statement that "# is more useful to be done than y in the 
situation /\" means that, apart from all reference to fittingness 

1 Fiv* Types of Ethical Theory, 218-20. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 81 

and unfittingness, the course of events F^ F . . . F* is on the whole 
intrinsically better than the course of events F l F% . . . F y n .' 1 

He adds that 

'the rightness or wrongness of an action in a given initial situation is 
a function of its fittingness in that situation and its utility in that 
situation. The pure Deontologist would deny that its utility or dis- 
utility was relevant to its rightness or wrongness. The pure Teleo- 
logist would deny that there is such a relation ac direct fittingness or 
unfittingness, and would make its rightness or wrongness depend 
entirely on its utility or disutility. Both these extremes seem to me 
to be wrong, and to be in flagrant conflict with common sense/ 2 

On this I have two comments to make, (i) Professor Broad 
has already described rightness as a certain unique mode of 
fittingness of an act to a situation 3 what we may call moral 
fittingness. Now if this be what rightness is, we cannot make 
rightness depend on a combination or balance of fittingness and 
utility. Unless the utility has a tendency to make the act fitting, 
it cannot have a tendency to make it right, if rightness is a kind 
of fittingness. It seems to me then that he should make right- 
ness depend not on a joint consideration of fittingness and 
utility, but on a joint consideration of fittingness arising from 
utility and fittingness arising from other sources, such as that 
a promise has been made. I feel, myself, no difficulty in recog- 
nizing, in the tendency which an act has to amend the situation 
in the best possible way, i.e. to produce the maximum good, 
something in virtue of which that act tends to be fitting to the 
situation. 

(2) I find a difficulty in Professor Broad's conception of an 
act as fitting the later phases in a process modified by its own 
occurrence. It seems to me clear that the situation which an 
act must fit if it is to be right is the situation that exists when, 
or just bfcfore, the act is done, not the situation as it will develop 
if modified by the act. Take the example that he takes, a true 
statement which may lead in the future to the formation of 
false opinions by the person to whom I speak or by some one 

1 Ibid. 220. * Ibid. 221. 3 Ibid. 164-5. 

4584 c 



82 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

else. It seems to me clear that any tendency that my statement 
may have, to lead to the formation of false opinions later, must 
be considered under the heading of disutility and not under the 
heading of what Professor Broad calls direct unfittingness. 
For if the duty to tell the truth be one of the duties that stand 
outside the utilitarian scheme, if it springs not from the badness 
of the total consequences of a lying statement but from the 
special nature of one special consequence, viz. that the state- 
ment leads directly to the formation of a false opinion on the 
subject-matter of my statement, then so far as that goes any 
opinion that any one may in the future form on other subject- 
matters falls outside of the 'direct unfittingness' of the act and 
must come under the heading of unfittingness arising from 
disutility. 

These are differences of detail. In the main, Professor 
Broad's view is just that which I wish to advocate, viz. that 
among the features of a situation which tend to make an act 
right there are some which are independent of the tendency of 
the act to bring about a maximum of good. To say this is to 
hold an intuitionistic view of one kind. It has, of course, often 
been pointed out that every ethical system admits intuition at 
some point. Utilitarianism in the general form represented by 
Professor Moore's ethical writings admits the supposed intui- 
tion that only what is productive of the greatest good is right. 
Hedonistic Utilitarianism adds to this the supposed intuition 
that only pleasure is intrinsically good. Sidgwick's form of 
hedonistic Utilitarianism adds to these intuitions two that 
contradict the essential principle of Utilitarianism, the 'axiom 
of rational self-love' and the 'axiom of justice'. The objection 
that many people feel to Intuitionism can hardly be an objec- 
tion to the admission of intuition; for without that no theory 
can get going. The objection rather is that Intuitionism admits 
too many intuitions, and further that it admits intuitions that 
in practice contradict one another. These objections must be 
considered separately. 

(i) The view which admits only one intuition that only 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 83 

the production of maximum good is right gratifies our 
natural wish to reach unity and simplicity in our moral theory. 
We have a natural wish to reach a single principle from which 
the rightness or wrongness of all actions can be deduced. But 
it is more important that a theory be true than that it be simple; 
and I have tried to show that a system which admits only this 
one intuition is false to what we all really think about what 
makes acts right or wrong. After all, there is no more justifica- 
tion for expecting a single ground of rightness than for expect- 
ing a single ground of goodness, and agathistic or generalized 
Utilitarianism recognizes a variety of goods without succeeding 
in finding, or even feeling any need to find, a single ground of 
the goodness of them all. It is, to my mind, a mistake in 
principle to think that there is any presumption in favour of 
the truth of a monistic against a pluralistic theory in morals, 
or, for that matter, in metaphysics either. When we are faced 
with two or more ostensible grounds of rightness, it is proper 
to examine them to find whether they have a single character 
in common; but if we cannot find one we have no reason to 
assume that our failure is due to the weakness of our thought 
and not to the nature of the facts. Just so in metaphysics; 
where we find two types of entity that are prima facie quite 
different, as bodies and minds are, it is proper to ask whether 
they are not two forms of one kind of entity; but there is no 
reason for assuming that they necessarily are; and if on exami- 
nation we can find no unity of nature in them, it is wiser to 
accept this result than to assume that there must be a unity that 
we have not discovered. There is no reason why all the 
substances in the world should be modifications of a single 
pattern. 

(2) But it may be argued that the plurality of moral intui- 
tions i$ disproved by the fact that the supposed intuitions in 
practice contradict one another; that often we cannot obey one 
without disobeying another; that sometimes we cannot obey 
the principle of telling the truth without disobeying the prin- 
ciple of not causing needless pain, or the principle of keeping 



84 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 
promises without disobeying the principle of producing the 
maximum good. This objection is to be met by care in stating 
the content of the principles for which we claim an axiomatic 
character. Moral intuitions are not principles by the immediate 
application of which our duty in particular circumstances can 
be deduced. They state what I have elsewhere 1 called prima 
facie obligations. This way of describing them is, I think, in 
two ways useful. In the first place, it brings out the fact that 
when we approach the question, what should I do in these 
particular circumstances, it is the fitness or unfitness of an 
imagined act in certain respects that first catches our attention. 
Any possible act has many sides to it which are relevant to its 
Tightness or wrongness; it will bring pleasure to some people, 
pain to others; it will be the keeping of a promise to one person, 
at the cost of being a breach of confidence to another, and so on. 
We are quite incapable of pronouncing straight off on its right- 
ness or wrongness in the totality of these aspects; it is only by 
recognizing these different features one by one that we can ap- 
proach the forming of a judgement on the totality of its nature; 
our first look reveals these features in isolation, one by one; they 
are what appears prima facie. And secondly, they are, prima 
facie, obligations. It is easy to be so impressed by the tightness 
of an act in one respect that we suppose it to be therefore 
necessarily the act that we are bound to do. But an act may be 
right in one respect and wrong in more important respects, and 
therefore not, in the totality of its aspects, the most right of the 
acts open to us, and then we are not obliged to do it; and 
another act may be wrong in some respect and yet in its 
totality the most right of all the acts open to us, and then we 
are bound to do it. Prima facie obligation depends on some 
one aspect of the act; obligation or disobligation attaches to it 
in virtue of the totality of its aspects. 

Yet the phrase 'prima facie obligation* does not do full 
justice to the facts. It says at the same time too much and too 
little. It says too much; it seems to say that prima facie obliga- 

1 The Rig fit and the Good, 19. 



THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 85 

tions are one kind of obligation, while they are in fact some- 
thing different; for we are not obliged to do that which is only 
prima facie obligatory. We are only bound to do that act 
whose prima facie obligatoriness in those respects in which it is 
prima facie obligatory most outweighs its prima facie dis- 
obligatoriness in those respects in which it is prima facie dis- 
obligatory. 

In another way it says too little. If we dismiss the wrong 
suggestion just pointed out, the phrase may then suggest that the 
whole character of the things we are speaking of is to appear to 
be obligations. But on general grounds we may say that it cannot 
be the whole character of anything to seem to be something. 
There must be something which it is, as well as something 
which it seems to be. And in particular, if we are mistaken 
when we suppose these things to be obligations, that is not 
the whole truth about them. They are not illusions which we 
dispense with when we view the act in its totality and see it to 
be really obligatory or really disobligatory. It remains hard 
fact that an act of promise-breaking is morally unsuitable in so 
far as it is an act of promise-breaking, even when we decide 
that in spite of this it is the act that we ought to do. 

We want an expression, then, which shall state what these 
things are which we have so far described by reference to what 
they seem to be. Professor Prichard has suggested that the 
word 'claims' may supply the need. But it has the inconvenience 
of stating the matter from the point of view of the persons to be 
affected by the action; we want also a word to express the matter 
from the point of view of the agent. And, further, the expres- 
sion 'claim* seems to be completely suitable only to cases where 
our duty is duty to another person or persons. But there are 
duties besides these the duties of improving our own character 
and oufown intellect; and it is only metaphorical to describe 
our own character or intellect as having a claim on us. Mr. 
Carritt has suggested the word 'responsibility* as escaping both 
these objections; 1 and I gladly accept the suggestion. 

1 Morals and Politics, i8f. 



86 THEORIES ABOUT THE GROUND OF RIGHTNESS 

When we try to formulate laws of nature, we find that if 
we are to s'tate them in a universal form which admits of no 
exception, we must state them not as laws of actual operation 
but as laws of tendency. We cannot say, for instance, that a 
certain force impinging on a body of a certain mass will always 
cause it to move with a certain velocity in the line of the force; 
for if the body is acted on by an equal and opposite force, it ac- 
tually remains at rest; and if it is acted on by a force operating in 
some third direction, it will move in a line which is oblique to 
the lines of both forces. We can only say that any force tends to 
make the body move in the line of the force. Thus alone do we 
get a perfectly universal law. In the same way if we want to 
formulate universal moral laws, we can only formulate them as 
laws of prima facie obligation, laws stating the tendencies of 
actions to be obligatory in virtue of this characteristic or of 
that. It is the overlooking of the distinction between obliga- 
tions and responsibilities, between actual obligatoriness and the 
tendency to be obligatory, that leads to the apparent problem 
of conflict of duties, and it is by drawing the distinction that 
we solve the problem, or rather show it to be non-existent. For 
while an act may well be prima facie obligatory in respect of 
one character and prima facie forbidden in virtue of another, it 
becomes obligatory or forbidden only in virtue of the totality 
of its ethically relevant characteristics. We are perfectly 
familiar with this way of thinking when we are face to face with 
actual problems of conduct, but in theories of ethics responsi- 
bilities have often been overstated as being absolute obligations 
admitting of no exception, and the unreal problem of conflict 
of duties has thus been supposed to exist. 



V 
THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

PERHAPS the severest criticism with which the view I am 
maintaining has met is that which is passed on it by Mr. 
W. A. Pickard-Cambridge. I quote a passage which shows the 
general nature of his criticism. 

'It is evident at once that a theory which hides the process which it 
professes to defend, at the most critical point, in a cloud of nega- 
tions, is not easy to attack convincingly. Anyone who maintains 
that we decide what is our duty by comparing together prima facie 
obligations and picking out one of them as the more stringent by 
inspection only, and on no principle at all, puts himself at a double 
advantage. 

'It is very difficult to subvert or to prove inappropriate any 
method which rejoices in working on no constant principle as 
difficult as it is to confute a man who does not mind how much he 
contradicts himself. Such a man retains a power to strike at his 
opponent who does believe in some constant, universal principle of 
judgment, if he can only find a single case where the latter is incon- 
sistent in his principles. On the other hand, he robs the opponent of 
any chance to strike at him with a like charge of inconsistency, 
because inconsistency of principle is, in his view, the normal and 
natural feature of all moral judgment. It is impossible to correct 
him at any point (as it is often easy to correct anyone who admits the 
existence of some one universal ground or character of our duties) 
by reference to his own judgment or to the principles he has em- 
ployed elsewhere. He can always get out of the net by saying "I 
know that principle B on which I act to-day not only does not support 
but actually collides with principle A on which I acted yesterday: 
but that is as it should be, because an unprincipled intuition makes 
me of Opinion" (or, in shorter American phrase, "I guess") "that 
to-day B has the stronger claim". Or again, if such order of priority 
between certain kinds of prima facie duty as the theory claims to be 
self-evident is ever reversed on any particular occasion (e.g. if ever 
it is believed to be right to give a present rather than pay a debt, 



88 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

when both cannot be done) the defender of the theory can always 
here again say that his intuition leads him in this case to this conclu- 
sion, and that that for him is sufficient. By thus professing to discard 
any consistent principle of judgment save to abide by his intuition 
at the moment, he puts himself outside the reach of any appeal to 
maintain any consistent principle of conduct a form of appeal 
which is usually accepted and predominant in moral as in all other 
discussions. Argument, then, on these lines is impossible. The need 
for consistency in one form, indeed, he readily admits, viz. for con- 
sistency in judgment between different people. If he judges truly at 
any point, then anyone else ought to judge the same. If they dis- 
agree, one must be in error, and he will admit that the error may be 
his: his opinions on all such matters are "highly fallible", nevermore 
than "probable". This candid admission saves his judgments from 
the fate, to which the total disclaimer of consistency in any form 
would expose him, of being the expressions of pure caprice and so 
totally insignificant. But it still affords no possible basis for argu- 
ment, nor opens any way to an agreement between the parties 
(except, of course, by a spontaneous and equally unprincipled 
change of opinion on one side or the other) upon the question which 
of them is in error and which not/ 1 

I find it difficult to seize what is the precise point of my 
theory which is here being attacked. But perhaps the most 
definite statement made is that in rny view inconsistency of 
principle is the normal and natural feature of moral judgement. 
It is true that what distinguishes my view from Mr. Pickard- 
Cambridge's is that I believe in a plurality of moral principles, 
while he believes in but one, that we should always do the act 
which seems likely, and do it because it seems likely, to produce 
most good. This appears to me to be clearly not the only 
principle which we recognize. But why should recognition of 
a plurality of principles be thought to involve inconsistency of 
principle? That will depend on the nature of the principles. 
If my principles were, for instance, 'I should always keep a 
promise' and 1 should always do that which seems likely to 
produce most good', these principles, while not formally 

1 Mind y xli (1932), 150-1. 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 89 

inconsistent in themselves, would sometimes involve incon- 
sistent consequences; for sometimes the keeping of a promise 
does not seem likely to produce most good, and then the one 
principle woulcj lead to the consequence 1 ought to keep the 
promise' and the other to the consequence 1 ought to break 
it 5 . This is precisely the difficulty into which a view like Kant's 
falls. But I have tried to avoid this objection, by stating the 
two principles quite differently the one in the form 'an act, 
in so far as it is the fulfilling of a promise, tends to be right 5 , the 
other in the form 'an act, in so far as it is the act which seems 
likely to produce most good, tends to be right*. And neither 
these principles, nor any consequences to which they lead, are 
inconsistent. What, then, is the justification for representing me 
as saying 1 know that principle B on which I act to-day not 
only does not support but actually collides with principle A on 
which I acted yesterday: but that is as it should be, because an 
unprincipled intuition makes me of opinion . . . that to-day B 
has the stronger claim 5 ? Surely Mr. Pickard-Cambridge him- 
self must admit on his own principles the existence of conflict- 
ing tendencies in the same act. An act which seems likely to do 
good to A and harm to B tends to be right in the first respect 
and wrong in the second. And there would be no inconsis- 
tency in his saying that though one act which does good to A 
and harm to B is on balance right, another which, while doing 
an equal good to A, did more harm to B may be wrong. And 
similarly there is no inconsistency in saying that though an act 
which keeps a promise to A and does harm to B is right, an act 
which keeps a promise to A and does more harm to B may be 
wrong. 

Next, I must examine Mr. Pickard-Cambridge's claim 1 that 
the ideal utilitarian method is,* compared with the intuition- 
istic, one which it is easy to apply in order to ascertain our 
duty. To this I would make two answers, (i) The claim seems 
to me to be justified as regards some moral situations, and 
unjustified as regards others, (a) Consider first a case in which 

1 Ibid. 330-40. 



90 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

we are really in doubt whether we ought to fulfil a particular 
promise, or to do an act which seems on the face of it likely to 
bring more good into the world. In such a case I believe the 
utilitarian method is one which it is easier to apply. For my 
view involves me in saying that in such a case we have to take 
account, just as a utilitarian would say we must take account, 
of the goodness and badness of the various consequences of 
either act. We are alike involved in this difficult evaluation. 
And, in addition, I aminvolved in the further problem of evalua- 
ting the prima facie obligatoriness of the one act qua fulfilment 
of promise with that of the other act qua productive of good; 
and this is in border-line cases a very real further difficulty. 
But () life is not full of such border-line cases. When we ask 
ourselves whether we ought in a given case to keep a promise, 
then if we hold as I do that there is a strong prima facie obliga- 
toriness attaching to the fulfilling of a promise, which therefore 
no slight preponderance of good to be effected by an alternative 
act can prevent from being my duty, I am saved from the task 
of narrowly scrutinizing the situation to see whether there 
might not be some slight preponderance of good effected by 
breaking my promise. Accordingly, in perhaps nine out of ten 
cases in which I have given a promise, I have no difficulty at all 
in seeing that I ought to fulfil it; while the opposite view would 
involve me in anxious scrutiny of every case in which I have 
made a promise, before I could know that I ought to fulfil it. 
Putting it briefly, the utilitarian method is the easier to apply 
in difficult cases; but in return, utilitarianism would make 
practically all cases in which a promise is to be kept or broken 
seem difficult cases even those which our natural moral 
consciousness informs us not to be so. 

My main answer, however, would be a different one, viz. 
(2) that any appeal to the ease of applying the one view or the 
other is beside the mark. It is not the business of moral philo- 
sophy to provide us with a theory which is easy to apply. Its 
business, or the part of its business with which we are at present 
concerned, is to say on what the lightness or wrongness of 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 91 

actions in fact depends. The fact that it would be easier to 
recognize our duty if it depended on factor a only than it would 
be if it depended on factors a, b, and c has no tendency whatever 
to prove that in fact it depends on a alone. The kind of argu- 
ment which Mr. Pickard-Cambridge turns against me could 
equally well be turned against him by a hedonist. A hedonist 
could fairly say that his own theory, which recognizes in 
pleasure the only intrinsic good, is easier to apply than one 
which recognizes, as Mr. Pickard-Cambridge's does, other 
types of good as well, and requires us to evaluate goods of dif- 
ferent types against one another. To him Mr. Pickard-Cam- 
bridge would rightly reply : That may be so, but the fact is that 
we think other things than pleasure good, and it is our business 
to take account of the facts and not to adopt a relatively easily 
applied theory because it is relatively easily applied/ And 
similarly I would reply to Mr. Pickard-Cambridge: 'The fact is 
that we recognize other grounds of tightness than productivity 
of good results, and the theory which points this out is the true 
theory, even if it is in many cases harder than the rival theory is 
to apply to the question what I should do here and now/ 

We must, however, see whether his system will square with 
the facts of the moral consciousness. In particular, we must 
consider further the question of promise-keeping. Mr. Pickard- 
Cambridge of course admits that, in general, promises should 
be kept. He gives his reason for this by pointing out various 
goods which are produced, and evils that are avoided, by the 
keeping of promises. His analysis is as follows: We may 
start with the evils produced by the breach of promise, viz. : 

1. The loss by the promisee of the promised benefit. 

2. The disappointment caused to him by the breach of 
promise. 

3. Thfc damage to the promiser's reputation, and therefore 
to his power to co-operate with others, and therefore to 
his power to do good. 

4. The damage to society caused by his weakening the 
general confidence that promises will be kept. 



92 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

If the promise is kept, on the other hand, the following 
goods will be produced: 

1. The gaining by the promisee of the promised benefit. 

2. The pleasure caused to him by the fulfilment of his expec- 
tation. 

3. The heightening of the promiser's reputation for trust- 
worthiness, with the greater power to do good which 
this will bring in its train. 

4. The benefit to society caused by his increasing the general 
confidence that promises will be kept. 

It is quite clear that the preservation of general mutual con- 
fidence between man and man is a source of very great good to 
a society. If men could not generally rely on others 5 keeping 
their promises, commercial credit, for instance, would break 
down, and society would be conducted at a great disadvantage. 
Utilitarians, therefore, have naturally laid great stress on this, 
and have put forward, as perhaps the main reason why an 
individual promise should be kept, the fact that every breach 
tends to weaken this general confidence. I ventured to say 
elsewhere 1 that 'it may be suspected . . . that the effect of 
a single keeping or breaking of a promise in strengthening 
or weakening the fabric of mutual confidence is greatly, exag- 
gerated by the theory we are examining* (the utilitarian theory), 
and Mr. Pickard- Cambridge takes me to task for this. He 
argues that the situation immediately suggested by my words 
('a single . . . breaking of a promise 5 ) is not the situation we 
have to think of. My words, he says, 

'suggest a single breach of promise occurring as an exception to the 
general practice, and in face of a general opinion that such breaches 
are wrong. What we have to ask is what would happen if this general 
opinion were scrapped, and if a breach of promise could appear in 
public with no halter round its neck, admired as a shrewd device, or at 
least approved as quite unobjectionable and lawful. Imitators would 
pour in as thickly as applicants for the dole. ... In six months or less 
credit would be as dead as national solvency with a universal dole*. 2 

1 The Right and th* Good, 39. a Mind, xli (1932), IJ4- 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 93 

His reasoning here appears to me to be at fault. We must dis- 
tinguish two questions. One is the question whether condem- 
nation of promise-breaking by public opinion is justifiable on 
utilitarian grounds? I am willing to admit that it is. Un- 
doubtedly general condonation of promise-breaking would 
lead to general breaking of promises, and undoubtedly this 
would lead to results which a utilitarian would deplore. But the 
question I was asking was a different question, viz. whether 
it is by its results that a particular act of promise-breaking 
is made to be wrong, or by its intrinsic nature as a breach of 
promise ? If I were tempted to break a particular promise, I, 
if I were a utilitarian, should not be entitled to ask 'what would 
happen if promise-breaking were generally condoned', except 
in so far as I thought this particular breach of promise likely to 
lead to the general condonation of promise-breaking; for parti- 
cular acts must by a utilitarian be judged only in the light of their 
probable consequences. Now I do not think that generally speak- 
ing a particular breach of promise is likely to have much influ- 
ence in promoting the general condonation of promise-breaking. 
Is it not rather the case that it will be condoned only in so far 
as public opinion is already weak or perverted on the matter of 
promise-breaking ? And is it not the case that a flagrant breach 
of promise often tends to strengthen the general opinion against 
promise-breaking, so that so far as this effect goes a utilitarian 
should welcome and approve it ? I should say, for instance, that 
the breach of Belgian neutrality by Germany in 1914 strength- 
ened rather than weakened in all impartial observers the sense 
that treaties ought to be observed. 'Recent history in Ireland 
or Chicago', says Mr. Pickard-Cambridge, 'sufficiently illus- 
trates the situation which arises if murder be unsuppressed.' 1 
But that is an argument not against the doing of a particular 
murder, 'but against the general condonation of murder by 
the state. 

So far Mr. Pickard-Cambridge seems to have fallen into an 
ignoratw elenchi. He has confused the question, What are the 

1 Ibid. 155. 



94 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

probableeffects if I break this promise ?, with the question, What 
are the probable effects if I do this and my act is generally con- 
doned?; and since the bad effects in the latter case will be very 
great, and enough to condemn the act on utilitarian grounds, 
he assumes that in the former case also they will be so. 

I pass to a part of his case which is more difficult to meet. 
He has shown great ingenuity in putting cases which do present 
some difficulty to one who believes in a prima facie duty to 
keep promises, (i) He puts first 1 the case of two sick musi- 
cians, A and B y of whom A has promised B that before 5 p.m. 
to-day he will put a new E-string on JS 9 s violin. If at 4.45 B is 
evidently dying, is A still bound by his promise ? I agree, as I 
suppose every one would, that he is not. But my comment 
would be that Mr. Pickard-Cambridge in using this case as an 
argument against my view is pressing on the letter of the pro- 
mise and not on its spirit. I ask for some common sense in the 
interpretation of the promise. A's verbal promise is : 'I will put 
a new E-string on your fiddle.' But the underlying assumption 
is that B will be well enough to play on the fiddle. In spirit the 
promise was: If you are alive and well enough to play on the 
fiddle, I will put it, in respect of its E-string, in condition for 
you to play on it/ The admission of such a qualifying clause 
would be dangerous if the qualification were one made secretly 
by the promiser to himself at the time of the promise, or ex- 
temporized by him afterwards in his own interests; but in this 
case it is one which, if it had occurred to A to make it openly at 
the time, would have been accepted by B> and which implicitly 
determines the nature of the understanding between the two 
men. Suppose the assumption were different: suppose that A 
had broken the string of B's violin, and his promise to B were 
implicitly a promise to make good this slight financial loss, he 
would be still bound to prevent this loss to H's heirs'. 

(2) Secondly, 2 he takes the case in which it is A's illness that 
takes a turn for the worse. If A is in pain and can hardly bear 
to move, then, says Mr. Pickard-Cambridge, he is under no 

1 Mind, xli (1932), 158. * Ibid. 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 95 

obligation to fulfil his promise. Again, I would ask that the 
promise be interpreted sensibly. The expectation of both men 
is that when the time comes to fulfil the promise the circum- 
stances will not be very different from what they are. It is on 
this assumption that the promise is made, and that it is received. 
If, when the time comes to fulfil it, A is as ill as Mr. Pickard- 
Cambridge supposes, he could fairly say to S y 'Here is a 
change of circumstances which neither of us contemplated. 
The assumption on which the promise was made being falsified, 
do you consider my promise still binding?' Suppose, on the 
other hand, A's promise had been : 'However ill and weak I am, 
I will do this for you if I can', then we should consider him still 
prima facie bound to fulfil the promise if he can ; whereas here also 
Mr. Pickard-Cambridge would apparently say that, although 
A's being very ill and weak was a possible contingency ex- 
plicitly named in the promise, yet since, when the time comes, 
he is ill and weak, so that the pain caused to him by the fulfil- 
ment of the promise would outweigh the good it will do to B y 
there is no obligation to fulfil the promise. Now this is a case 
in which, since the promise is probably known only to the two 
persons concerned, the sapping of general mutual confidence 
by general condonation is not a consequence that need be con- 
sidered. The only consequences that a utilitarian need consider 
are the pain caused to A by his fulfilling the promise, and the 
pain caused to B l by its not being fulfilled; and Mr. Pickard- 
Cambridge's view evidently is that, where other consequences 
are negligible, and A's pain would be greater than JB's, A has 
no obligation to fulfil the promise. On this view, then, when- 
ever A makes a promise to .5, he is to be understood as saying, 
'I will do so and so if and only if my doing so and so will cause 
me less pain or inconvenience than my not doing so will cause to 
you/ Mr. Pickard-Cambridge claims constantly that his view 
agrees better than the opposing view with the ordinary conscious- 
ness, but I think that this is not how the ordinary consciousness 
understands promises. I think we should want to know, when 

1 I use this phase, for brevity, as including his loss of pleasure. 



96 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

some one makes us a promise, whether it is an ordinary promise 
or a Pickard-Cambridge promise that he is making. 

(3) 1 I have promised (a) to play at a concert, (b} to send my 
score, (c) to send my partner's score. I fall ill, and it is clear 
that I shall not be able to play. Promise (a) therefore 'must be 
broken, because its fulfilment is impossible 5 . But, according 
to Mr. Pickard-Cambridge, I (on my theory) ought to main- 
tain that it is still my duty to fulfil promises (6) and (c), which 
I still can fulfil. Again I ask for common sense in the interpre- 
tation of the promise. My verbal promises were as stated, and 
if I am to be held to the letter of my promises I am guilty of 
breach of promise if I break any one of them. But it is clear 
that the promise to play was subject to the tacit condition 'if I 
am able to play', and that the other two promises are subject 
to the same condition, and cease to be binding when the as- 
sumed condition is not fulfilled. 

(4)* I promise (a) to call at X's house at 2 p.m. to-morrow 
and () to go for a walk with him. He falls ill, so that promise 
() cannot be fulfilled. Mr. Pickard-Cambridge says that on 
my theory I ought to maintain that promise (a) is still binding. 
But it is surely perfectly clear that the assumed condition of 
both promises is that both X and I are well enough to go for a 
walk, and that, this condition being unfulfilled, \hzprimafacie 
obligation to fulfil either disappears. If, on the other hand, 
the promise to call at his house were independent of the 
assumed condition that he is well enough to go for a walk, it 
would still hold good. Once more Mr. Pickard-Cambridge is 
insisting on the letter of the promise and forgetting the spirit. 

(5) 3 The vicar of my parish asks me to send my piano to the 
parish hall next Thursday afternoon. I promise categorically. 
I afterwards learn that he is arranging for a concert, and later 
that the concert is off. Mr. Pickard-Cambridge says I ought 
(on my theory) to think myself still bound to send the piano. 
But it seems to me clear that though categorical in words, my 
promise was made and accepted on the tacit understanding that 

1 Mind, xli (1932), 163-4. * Ibid. 164-5. 3 Ibid. 165. 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 97 

my piano would serve some purpose of the vicar's, and that 
when this condition is known to be unfulfilled the prima facie 
obligation disappears. 

(6) 1 A rich miser visits me in forma pauperis, and extracts 
a promise to pay him 100 in six months. 'If I discover the 
fraud in time, will anyone hold that my promise binds me?' 
The case seems to me a difficult one. I would deal with it tenta- 
tively as follows. If he had promised to do me a service, and I 
had promised to pay 100 on his doing so, it will be agreed 
that my promise would cease to be binding if its condition 
were not fulfilled by him. Now, in thef actual case supposed, 
my promise to pay arose out of conversation with the miser, 
which was conducted under the implied contract to tell each 
other the truth. In breaking this contract, he has destroyed the 
basis on which my promise was made. It is as if I had said, 'If 
you are telling me the truth, I will pay you 100', and since he 
is not telling me the truth, the condition on which the promise 
was made is unfulfilled, and I shall not in spirit be breaking my 
promise in refusing to pay. 

Suppose, however, that I do pay, is it not clear that he is 
under a very strong prima facie obligation to return the money 
an obligation which good men would regard as in most cases 
overriding the question whether he or I or another man would 
make the best use of the money? Whatever we may think, in 
this difficult case, of the prima facie obligation to keep promises, 
does it not form a very clear case of another prima facie duty, 
that of restitution for injury done? 

(y) 2 A poor man extracts from me a like promise, and comes 
into a fortune before the six months have elapsed. ' Am I bound 
to pay? Very few would think me bound to do so/ The case 
does not seem to me so easy. I think that a man with a very 
delicate* sense of honour would consider that he ought to pay 
for his own carelessness in making the promise unconditionally. 
But alternatively it might be urged that the promise was in 
spirit a promise to pay 100 to a poor man, and ceased to be 

1 Ibid. 165-6. 2 Ibid. 166. 

4584 



98 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

binding when the poor man has become rich. In either case the 
prima facie obligation to keep promises does not seem to be 
placed in question. And surely, whatever we may think that 
the promiser ought to do, we should agree that if he does pay, 
the other ought to return the money. The case throws into 
high relief the prima facie duty of making a return for benefits 
received. So obvious is this that we should not think it neces- 
sary for the recipient of the 100 to consider anxiously whether 
he, or his benefactor, or some other person would make the 
best use of the money. He should send it straight back to his 
benefactor. 

It would be tedious to go through all the cases put forward 
by Mr. Pickard-Cambridge; I have, I believe, said enough to 
indicate the lines on which they should be dealt with by one 
who believes in a prima facie obligation to fulfil promises, 
distinct from the obligation to seek the general good. But it 
may well be thought that I have been rather vague, in appealing 
to the spirit of a promise against its letter. 'A promise*, it may 
be contended, 'is a statement that one will do something, and 
is not fulfilled unless this thing is done/ My reference to the 
spirit of the promise is simply a reference to the obvious fact 
that most promises, like most statements of any kind in 
ordinary life, are made without any attempt, and without any 
necessity, to state in full all their implied conditions and quali- 
fications, since conversation would be very tedious if all of these 
were insisted upon. Between two men of good faith there will 
usually be agreement as to the unexpressed conditions to which 
a promise is subject; the spirit of the promise is perfectly well 
understood. To argue that one who takes the non-utilitarian 
view of promises is bound to interpret them according to the 
letter and not to the spirit is really to misinterpret the nature of 
ordinary speech. 

Of course the presence of unexpressed conditions to which 
a promise is subject has its dangers; and in particular the 
presence of the very vague unexpressed condition 'if circum- 
stances have not become very different*. Those who wish to 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 99 

break a treaty, for instance, are usually able to say with truth 
that conditions have become very different since the treaty was 
made. There are various ways in which this difficulty can be 
dealt with. One, of course, is to make every effort to state the 
conditions explicitly instead of leaving them to be tacitly under- 
stood. But however much care be taken, it is impossible to 
foresee all the changes of circumstances which might make the 
maintenance of a treaty unreasonable. No treaty, therefore, 
should be made binding for ever; every treaty should either be 
for a definite period, or should contain provisions for its own 
possible revision under suitable arrangements. The difficulty 
is not so serious in the case of most promises between indi- 
viduals. As a rule, these are promises to do something within 
a comparatively short time, in which there is less danger of a 
change of conditions which will make the fulfilment of the 
promise unreasonably onerous. But it is plain that even in such 
private promises it would often be well to express the condi- 
tions more exactly than we usually do. 

Another argument to which Mr. Pickard-Cambridge attaches 
weight is to this effect : If the making of a promise in itself 
constituted a prima facie obligation to fulfil the promise, the 
obligation, springing as it does from a single source, ought to 
be always equally great; whereas every one in fact regards a 
promise to attend an At Home, for instance, as much less bind- 
ing than one to attend a dinner-party. 1 An attempt might be 
made to answer this objection by saying: 'This would be a fair 
argument to use if I thought the making of a promise was the 
only source of a prima facie obligation. But I do not; I think 
there is also a prima facie obligation to bring into being as great 
a balance of good over evil as one can. I am therefore bound to 
consider the consequences of my act, and in the one case the 
obligation to fulfil the promise is reinforced by the obligation 
to save my host the very considerable inconvenience of an 
empty place at his dinner-table, while in the other, where the 
inconvenience to him will be much less, the reinforcement is 

1 Mind, xli (1932), 159. 



ioo THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

much less, and a less strong countervailing obligation will make 
me think it right to break my promise arid do something else 
instead e.g. spend the afternoon in the company of a sick 
friend/ 

This, however, would not be in my opinion the correct 
answer. For it divides my responsibility to my host into a 
responsibility to fulfil a promise + a responsibility to produce 
good, the first responsibility being of uniform obligatoriness and 
the second being more obligatory according as the good to be 
produced is greater; and that is not how we really think about 
the matter. What we really think is that we have a single respon- 
sibility to our friend, to confer on him the promised benefit 
(our presence at the party being assumed to be a benefit to him). 

There appears to be no reason why one who does not take 
the utilitarian view of promises should consider the binding- 
ness of all promises to be equal. In our natural thought about 
it, I believe we think of it as being, as it were, a product of 
two factors. One of these is the value of the promised service 
in the eyes of the promisee; we clearly think ourselves more 
bound not to fail another person in an important matter, than 
not to fail him in an unimportant one; and if any one doubts 
this and thinks I am being dangerously lax in allowing degrees 
of bindingness here, let him suppose himself (a) to have pro- 
mised to visit a sick friend whom he knows to be longing for his 
company, or alternatively () to have promised to go to the 
theatre with a party which he thinks will not miss him much 
if he does not go. In the absence of any other responsibility 
competing with either of these, each of them will be binding; 
but the second responsibility will be much more readily over- 
ridden by any competing responsibility, such as that of turning 
aside to help the victims of an accident. 

The other factor tending to increase the obligation to fulfil 
a promise depends on the way in which and the time at which 
the promise has been made. Any one would feel that a promise 
made casually in a moment of half-attention is less binding than 
one made explicitly and repeatedly, and perhaps reinforced by 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 101 

oath. The recency of the promise seems also to add something 
to its bindingness; we say, 'Why, it was only yesterday that you 
promised to do it/ Such considerations make the promise 
more binding, because they intensify the promiser's awareness 
of its existence and the promisee's expectation of its fulfilment. 

We may, then, if we like to put the matter so, think of the 
responsibility for conferring a promised benefit as being n 
times as binding as the responsibility for conferring an exactly 
similar unpromised benefit, where n is always greater than i, 
and, when the promise is very explicit, is much greater than i. 
It will follow that it is always our duty to fulfil a promise, 
except when the uncovenanted benefit to be conferred is more 
than n times greater than the covenanted benefit. We are not 
able to assign a very definite value to n in any case, but I 
believe there is pretty general agreement that n is usually great 
enough to secure that when the alternative advantage to be 
conferred is not very different in amount, the promised advan- 
tage ought to be conferred. 

From the duty of promise-keeping Mr. Pickard-Cambridge 
turns to consider briefly the duty of returning good for good, 
and that of punishment, and to argue that these also can be 
explained on utilitarian grounds, (i) 'To return a service, 
especially where it requires a sacrifice, is to show most un- 
mistakably that the service has been appreciated, and to keep 
alive the benefactor's good-will. Not to return it is to choke the 
life of friendship in its infancy, by discouraging the effective 
good-will of the benefactor; or, if his good- will still continues 
to live and to express itself, the relation is inevitably, if unin- 
tentionally, diverted downhill from friendship into patronage/ 1 
Is this the way in which any one not intent on defending a 
theory really thinks about the return of benefits ? Is it really 
the wish to keep alive our benefactor's good-will, or to save 
him from becoming patronizing, that makes us think we ought 
to return benefits ? Is not our actual thought more truly ex- 
pressed in the simple phrase 'one good turn deserves another* ? 

1 MinJ, xli (1932), 1 68. 



102 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

And is not this the expression of the sense of a prima facie 
obligation to return good for good, quite distinct from the 
duty of caring for the character of our benefactor? 

(2) With regard to punishment also, Mr. Pickard-Cam- 
bridge seems to give up any notion of desert. The sufficient 
reason why prima facie it is a duty to punish only the guilty, is 
that they are the people who most need to be brought to 
reconsider their ways, and there is nothing so provocative of 
reflection as the inability to sit down in comfort/ 1 It follows 
that if we thought that in any particular situation equally good 
consequences would be produced by punishing a guilty person 
and by inflicting pain on an innocent one, we should think the 
one act no more right than the other. But this is not what we 
really think. We think of infliction of pain on the innocent 
only as something to be taken to in the last resort, when some 
overwhelming reason of public policy demands it. And the 
very reformative effect of punishment of which he speaks will 
take place only if the punished person thinks of his punishment 
not as an administrative device for furthering the general 
benefit, but as something that he has deserved by his misdoing. 

In his third article 2 Mr. Pickard-Cambridge returns to the 
topic of promise-keeping. His argument is an elaborate one, 
but the only novel feature in it, I think, is a distinction which 
I had not brought out, and which is well worth bringing out. 
He distinguishes between what he calls the objective good 
brought about by the fulfilment of a promise, arising out of the 
nature of the service done to the promisee, and the subjective 
good, consisting in his gratification at getting what he ex- 
pected to get; and similarly between the objective loss involved 
in the breaking of a promise, arising from the nature of what 
the promiser fails to give to the promisee, and the subjective 
evil consisting in his disappointment. And he argues that this 
enables him to justify on utilitarian grounds many acts of 
promise-keeping which it would be hard to justify on utili- 
tarian grounds if we forgot the subjective good involved. He 

1 Aftruf, xli (1932), 169. 2 Ibid. 311-40. 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 103 

argues that if I should by keeping the promise confer 1,000 
units of objective good on the promisee, and by doing an 
alternative act 1,002 units of objective good on some one else, 
I am on the strictest utilitarian grounds justified in keeping the 
promise if I think that more than one unit of subjective good 
will be conferred on the promisee in the one case, and more than 
one unit of subjective evil inflicted on him in the other. 

He is surely not justified in laying the stress he does on the 
subjective good of a fulfilled promise to the promisee; for in 
general there is more subjective good involved in getting an 
unpromised and unexpected benefit than in getting a promised 
and expected one. But he is justified in attaching a good deal of 
importance to the subjective evil of not getting a promised and 
expected benefit; and this might, as he suggests, turn the scale, 
on utilitarian principles, in favour of keeping a promise which 
on other grounds a utilitarian would not think himself bound 
to keep. But I cannot accept the suggestion that, apart from 
the effect of my action in strengthening or weakening general 
mutual confidence, the obligation to keep a promise is entirely 
due to the sum of good objective and subjective to be conferred 
on the promisee. And I invite any one who accepts Mr. 
Pickard-Cambridge's view to consider the following cases. 

(i) Where the objective goods to be conferred by keeping 
and by breaking the promise are equal, and the effects on general 
mutual confidence are negligible, he would make the reason for 
its being right to fulfil the promise, when it is right, lie in the 
gratification to be caused to the promisee. But now suppose 
that some one has through no fault of mine misunderstood me 
as promising to do a certain act suppose, for instance, that he 
is a foreigner who has claimed to understand English perfectly 
but has in fact quite misunderstood some word or idiom I used, 
and therefore taken me to be promising to do act A when I was 
promising something different, or not promising anything at 
all; his gratification if I did or disappointment if I did not do 
what he was relying on me to do would be just as great as if 
I had promised to do it, but my thought about my duty would 



io 4 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 
be entirely different. I should very likely as a matter of bene- 
volence save him the disappointment, if I could do so without 
sacrificing some more stringent duty, but I should have none 
of the distinctive thought which I have when I have made a 
promise, that I am, simply for that reason, prima facie bound 
to fulfil it. Mr. Pickard-Cambridge's view leads to a con- 
clusion completely contrary to what we actually think in such 
a case. 

(2) Suppose that^f, a dying man, has entrusted his property, 
or some part of it, to B on the strength of JB'$ promise to hand 
it over to C y who knows nothing of A's wishes or of 's 
promise. Suppose that B does not believe in immortality, or 
believes that at any rate the dead know nothing of the fortunes 
of the living. Then there is for him no question of either sub- 
jective or objective good to be enjoyed by A^ and since C knows 
nothing of the affair there is no question of subjective good or 
evil for him through the gratification or disappointment of his 
hopes. If the transaction has been private, y s act will have no 
effect on general mutual confidence, unless he divulges the 
transaction, which, if he breaks the promise, he is not likely to 
do. There is no question, for one who disbelieves in immor- 
tality, of strengthening or weakening A's friendship for him; 
for A is dead. Then according to Mr. Pickard- Cambridge B 
would be justified in simply considering what was the best use 
that could be made of the property. If he thought a fourth 
person D could make the best use of it, or that he himself 
could, he ought to bestow it on D or keep it for himself. 
There is, of course, the question of the effect on his own 
character. If he breaks the promise, he will probably weaken 
his own feeling for the sanctity of promises, and make it more 
likely that he will break other promises which even on utili- 
tarian grounds he ought to keep. But, for Mr. PickarA-Cam- 
bridge, the duty of keeping promises is always subject to the 
more general duty of producing as much good as possible, so 
that the promiser will be doing a worse thing, and doing more 
harm to his character, if by keeping the promise he loses the 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 105 

opportunity of doing the maximum good, than if he breaks the 
promise. 

Is it not clear that this utilitarian way of considering such 
a case is not the way in which honest men actually would con- 
sider it ? We should, in fact, regard the breaking of this promise 
as an outrageous breach of trust, and if we fear the effect on our 
character, it is because we consider the act itself detestable. 

Some one might ask why I take such an artificial case, in 
which many of the goods and evils that usually result from the 
keeping or breaking of promises are eliminated. My answer 
would be that I have no need of such cases to convince me, or 
(I believe) most thinking people, that there is aprimafacie duty 
to fulfil promises, distinct from the prima facie duty to produce 
what is good. This seems to me to stand out as a salient fact in 
the moral situation, even when the moral situation bristles with 
good utilitarian reasons for fulfilling promises, or for breaking 
them. But when we have to deal with theorists who do not 
admit this, perhaps the method of isolating the issue by 
eliminating other considerations affords the best hope of 
convincing them. 

The view that the obligation to fulfil promises is distinct 
from that of producing the greatest good has also been criti- 
cized from another point of view, viz. that of the school of 
Brentano. Mr. G. Katkov, in his Untersuchungenzur Werttkeorie 
und Theodizee* has attempted to bring what we think about the 
sacredness of promises under the principle of the maximization 
of good, in the following way. He points out (i) that the re- 
ceiver of a promise, on the strength of his belief that the 
promise will be fulfilled, undertakes certain sacrifices and risks 
which he would not otherwise have undertaken, so that the 
maker of the promise runs in turn the risk of inflicting great 
injury on the receiver if he breaks the promise. 

This explanation plainly does not meet the case. The special 
characteristic of the situation created by a promise is that even 

1 pp. 136-41. 



106 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

when we do not think the promisee likely to lose more by the 
breaking of the promise than some one else will gain, we think 
ourselves prima facie obliged to keep the promise. 

Mr. Katkov falls back (2) on a second line of defence, which 
is much more interesting. He holds that we are not justified in 
breaking a promise in order to confer even the greatest good 
on another than the promisee, if there is the slightest proba- 
bility that through our action the promisee will suffer an injury 
which makes his total 'balance of value* predominantly bad. 
This is very different from Mr. Pickard-Cambridge's light- 
hearted treatment of the interests of the promisee as standing on 
exactly the same level as any one else's; it is, in fact, the admis- 
sion of a prima facie obligation independent of the obligation 
to maximize value. It is true that Mr. Katkov rests this prima 
facie obligation on a different principle from that of fidelity to 
promise; he makes our special obligation in this case to be an 
instance of the general law that we are not justified in inflicting 
harm on one person in order to confer a greater good on 
another. To say this is at once to give up the crude utilitarian 
principle that an evil conferred on any one can always (in the 
determination of our duty) be set off against an equal good 
conferred on some one else; and I have already 1 remarked that 
at this point Utilitarianism does not correspond to what we 
really think. But Mr. Katkov's admission fails to deal com- 
pletely with the peculiarity of the situation created by a promise. 
This will be seen if we compare two situations. In one, A has 
made no promise to any one, and a certain act would confer a 
great good on B and a smaller injury on C. In the other, he has 
made a promise to C and none to JB y and a breach of promise 
would confer a great good on B and a smaller injury on C. 
Any right-thinking person will, I believe, consider that the 
fact that this act would be a breach of promise is (whether de- 
cisive or not) a further argument against doing the act, over and 
above any objection which arises from its being an injuring of 
one person in order to benefit another. 

1 P- 75- 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 107 

(3) Finally, Mr. Katkov denies the possibility of any prima 
facie obligation which can conflict with the duty of producing 
the best state of affairs, on the general ground that 'better' simply 
means that which it is right to prefer. This is simply a cutting 
of the knot. The position is this. Those who think as I do, 
think (and claim that the moral consciousness when not 
sophisticated by a particular theory agrees with us) that there 
is a prima facie duty to fulfil promises even when no greater 
good can be foreseen as likely to come into being by the 
promise's being kept than by its being broken; and we think 
that this shows that the rule 'produce the greatest good 5 is 
not the only rule of conduct. The followers of Brentano 
agree with us in thinking that when we have made a pro- 
mise we are under a special obligation to the promisee, but 
differ from us in thinking that it can be brought under the 
general rule 'choose the greatest good'. But instead of try- 
ing to point out wherein the specific good to be produced by 
keeping promises consists, they content themselves with 
saying 'it must be the greatest good, because it is what we 
ought to produce'. The utilitarian says 'you ought to do so- 
and-so because by doing so you will produce the greatest 
possible good' : the follower of Brentano says 'do what you 
ought to do, and you may be sure that in doing so you will be 
choosing the greatest good, since "better" means nothing but 
that to prefer which is right'. 1 

Mr. Katkov sees 2 that if this is all that 'better' means, his prin- 
ciple 'you ought to choose the best of what is attainable' is in 
danger of being a mere tautology "it is right to prefer what 
it is right to prefer'. He can hardly be held to have escaped 
from this conclusion by the remark 3 that 'in choice not a simple 
preference, but the preference of an existence to a non-exist- 
ence, or the opposite, is included, and so the utilitarian highest 
practical principle comes pretty much to this, that whenever 
one is faced by the choice between the existence of several 
goods, he should always prefer the existence of the more 

1 Op. cit. 140. 2 Ibid. 141. 3 Ibid. 141. 



io8 THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

excellent*. If 'better' only means 'such that one ought to prefer 
it', nothing can save the principle 'one ought to prefer the 
existence of the better' from being a tautology. And unless we 
can see a goodness in the state of affairs produced by a fulfilment 
of promise a goodness not resting on or consisting in the fact 
thaf we ought to fulfil the promise we 'cannot say that the 
duty of fulfilling the promise rests on the general duty of pro- 
ducing what is good. 1 

Although I think it is quite clear that a promise creates a 
prima facie obligation, or a responsibility, quite different from 
that which alone the utilitarian system recognizes, we must 
guard against stating the obligation in a way which would lead 
to consequences which our reflective moral consciousness 
would reject. What then is it, exactly, that a promise creates 
an obligation to do ? We must first note that, if the promise is 
phrased in the way in which promises usually are phrased, we 
are not under an obligation to do that which we have promised. 
For promises usually take the form of saying 'I will do so-and- 
so', where 'doing so-and-so' is the effecting of some change in 
the state of affairs, paying a debt, returning a borrowed book, 
travelling to some place to meet some person, &c.; but if we 
are right in the contention put forward in another context, 2 we 
are under no obligation to effect changes, but only to set our- 
selves to do so. If, therefore, we want to limit ourselves to 
making promises which it will be our duty to fulfil, we should 
cast our promises in the form 'I will set myself, or do my best, 
to do so-and-so'. But it would be pedantic to insist upon this 
alteration, for in fact our promises are understood so by both 
parties. No one thinks that he has failed to do his duty if he 
has done his best, without success, to fulfil his promise; and no 
one thinks another has failed in his duty, though we may think 
he has failed to discharge a legal obligation, if he has done his 
best to bring about the change that was promised. 

1 I return to this subject later, when the meaning of 'good' comes to be discussed, 
p. 289. * pp. 153-4, 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 109 

But even the obligation to set oneself to do that which was 
promised does not necessarily remain binding until the self- 
exertion in question has been performed. For in the first place, 
if it has become clearly impossible to effect the change in 
question, there remains no duty to set oneself to effect it. If 
I have promised to return a certain book to a friend, and if the 
book is meantime destroyed, it ceases to be my duty to set 
myself to return it; for my duty, when the time comes at which 
I had promised to return the book, is determined not solely by 
my promise but also by the later developments of the situation; 
and here the situation has developed in such a way as to abolish 
the duty though it has created another instead. 

Suppose that the fulfilment of the promise has become not 
impossible, but much more difficult than it appeared likely to be 
when the promise was made. Mr. Pickard-Cambridge evi- 
dently thinks that in that case too the duty is usually abolished. 
But I do not think that our reflective moral sense would support 
him there. Ease of performance is no necessary or even usual 
characteristic of that which is our duty. No doubt, if the effort 
to fulfil some difficult promise were likely to be such as to 
incapacitate us for many other useful services, we might con- 
sider ourselves absolved from the duty; but then the prima facie 
obligation would not have been abolished, but would merely be 
over-ridden, as any prima facie obligation may be over-ridden 
by another that is more stringent. No doubt, too, we should 
regard the fulfilment of a promise which had become much 
more difficult to fulfil since it was given, as better evidence 
of moral goodness than the performance of one which had re- 
mained relatively easy, and the failure to perform it as less 
evidence of moral badness than the failure to perform one that 
had remained relatively easy. But to say there is less moral 
badness in failing to do A than in failing to do B is quite 
different from saying that A is less our duty than B y still more 
from saying that it is not our duty to do A at all. 

Apart from impossibility of fulfilment, there is one other 
condition that abolishes the prima facie obligation. The duty 



i io THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

of fulfilment of promise is not a duty of maintaining consis- 
tency between one's words and one's deeds. The sense of it is 
distinct from any sense that one may have that, to be self-con- 
sistent, one ought to do something that one has said one will 
do, just because one has said one will do it; and much stronger 
than any such sense. It is essentially the sense of a duty not to 
fail, not to 'let down', some one who has, on the ground of 
one's promise, trusted one to do something that he wishes one 
to do. If he convinces us that he has ceased to want it, we 
feel ourselves no longer under even any prima facie obligation 
to fulfil the promise, because we have no longer the thought 
that otherwise we shall be failing our promisee. Here again, 
the present duty depends not merely on the situation as it was 
when we made the promise, but on its subsequent develop- 
ment; and the subsequent development has been such as to 
make that cease to be a duty which at first was one. Indeed, if 
we feel convinced, even on other grounds than his saying so, 
that the promisee no longer wishes the promise to be fulfilled, 
the prima facie obligation has disappeared. At first sight, this 
seems to lend itself to the utilitarian explanation that it is 
the thought of the promisee's future gratification that makes the 
fulfilment of the promise a duty, so long as it is a duty. But 
that this is not the true explanation is shown by the fact that we 
all (I believe) think ourselves to be obliged on quite a different 
ground to fulfil a promise to another person, from that on 
which we think ourselves obliged to afford him an unpromised 
gratification. It is further shown by the fact that we think our- 
selves bound by a promise to a man who has died since the 
promise was made. Here, unless we think not only that he 
survives in another mode of being, but that he is, in that mode 
of being, aware of what happens on earth, and has the same 
desires that he had on earth, there is no thought of His future 
gratification; yet we feel the promise to be binding, whether 
or not we hold these views about a future life. In his case, too, 
we think the prima facie obligation is terminated if we are con- 
vinced that he, if he were alive and aware of the circumstances, 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES in 

would no longer wish us to do what we have promised. But that 
is a consideration which no utilitarian can consistently permit 
himself. He must concern himself only with consequences that 
he thinks likely to happen, not with what might happen if things 
were not as they are, if the promisee were alive instead of dead. 

It might be suggested that though we do not seriously think 
the dead man will be gratified by our fulfilment of our promise, 
we are yet obscurely under the influence of a superstitious 
tendency to think of him as likely to be gratified. This, no 
doubt, is sometimes so; but that it is not a complete account of 
our attitude is shown by the fact that we should think just in the 
same way in the case of a promise to a man who by reason of 
distance, or of some other cause distinct from death, is not 
likely to know whether the promise has been fulfilled, and to be 
gratified or disappointed accordingly. 

Again, if we have promised to do several related actions, 
some of which we believe to be desired by the promisee only if 
the others also are done, then if the latter become impossible, 
we naturally are under no obligation to do the former. On the 
other hand, if we have promised to do a number of related 
actions, the fact that some have become impossible and some 
are no longer desired by the promisee, while some perhaps are 
neither possible nor desired by him, does not abolish the duty 
to do the others which are both possible and desired by him. 

There is another change of circumstances, regarding which 
we must ask ourselves whether it abrogates the prima facie duty 
of fulfilling a promise. Suppose that it is still possible to fulfil 
it, and that the promisee still wishes for its fulfilment, but that 
we have become convinced that its fulfilment will do him 
harm, or less good than something else that we might do 
instead. Here we think of the promise as still binding upon us; 
we think'of ourselves as still under the prima facie obligation. 
But this, like all prima facie obligations, is open to the competi- 
tion of others, and it is only to be expected that when the 
advantage to be given to the promisee by some alternative act is 
very great, the sense of obligation to do that act should outweigh 



in THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 

the sense of obligation to fulfil the promise. And in principle 
the same is true when it is not the promisee but some one else on 
whom the great advantage will be conferred by the alternative act. 

The various considerations I have pointed out as having the 
effect of abolishing or over-riding the original duty of fulfilling 
a promise seem to me to account completely for the whole 
variety of cases cited by Mr. Pickard-Cambridge in which 
promises are not felt to be binding, without in the least involv- 
ing the conclusion which he draws, that when they are binding 
they are binding only on the ground that their probable con- 
sequences are better than those which could be achieved by 
any alternative action. 

While we are concerned with the duty of fulfilment of pro- 
mise, it is worth while to consider the relation of this duty to 
that of telling the truth. These are apt to be thought of as 
distinct and complementary duties, the one a duty to say what 
is true, the other a duty to make true what one has said. But 
the relation between the two is more complex than this; the 
two are connected in the following way. You can break a 
promise without telling a lie (for it is only when the promise 
is made with the intention of breaking it, that a lie is told); but 
you cannot tell a lie without breaking a promise. This arises 
from the nature of language. If words had a natural affinity 
with the things they usually stand for, you could deceive with- 
out breaking a promise, by simply using words in an unnatural 
meaning. But, apart from a few onomatopoeic words, there is 
not, between words and the things they stand for, any natural 
affinity which makes the one the natural symbol for the other. 
There is no more affinity between the noise ' John is dead* and 
the fact which we usually express by saying that 'Jlm is dead*, 
than between the noise 'John is alive' and the fact which we 
usually express by saying that * John is dead 5 . If somd one asks 
me whether John is alive or dead, and I think that he is alive, 
it can be a duty for me to say 'John is alive* only in virtue of a 
pre-established expectation that when I make this noise I shall 
be thinking him to be in the state which we usually express Ly 



THE OBLIGATION TO FULFIL PROMISES 113 

saying that he is alive. It is not to be supposed that there is a 
separate convention as to the meaning with which each word 
is to be used. But it must be supposed that there is a general 
convention that we shall not without notice use words in a 
meaning other than that in which they are generally used. If 
it were not for this, I should be at liberty to make the noise 
'John is dead* when I think he is alive. But, there being this 
convention or understood promise, I am guilty of a breach of 
promise if I say he is dead when I think he is alive. Thus the 
telling of a lie is always a breach of promise. 

The space I have given to discussing the duty of fulfilling 
promises might lay me open to the suspicion that I attach an 
undue importance to this duty. I do not think that that is the 
case. I have discussed it at length, partly because it is a very 
clear case of a duty which cannot be reduced to that of produc- 
ing a maximum of good, and partly because the discussion has 
been forced on me by a particular critic. I do not suppose that 
I take, in fact, a more rigorous view of this duty than a utili- 
tarian is likely to do; for on the one hand I am very conscious 
that there are other responsibilities which often outweigh that 
of fulfilling promises, and on the other hand a utilitarian is apt, 
in order to bring the rigour of his view about promises up to 
that of the ordinary moral consciousness, to make more of the 
utilitarian reasons for keeping promises than the facts warrant. 1 
My object is not to suggest that the duty is more binding than 
a utilitarian thinks it is, but to suggest that it is binding on 
quite a different ground. The other principles of duty which, 
I have suggested, 2 fall outside the utilitarian scheme could be 
defended by arguments similar to those by which I have de- 
fended the independence of the principle of promise-keeping; 
but it would be tedious to develop such a defence. If I have 
convinced any one that there is one principle that falls outside 
the utilitarian scheme, he will probably be ready to admit that 
there are others also; and if I have not convinced him in this 
case, I should not be likely to do so in others. 

1 Cf. pp. 92-4. 2 Cf. pp. 69-77. 

4584 



VI 

THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 
SOME THEORIES 

I TURN now to the question, What is the general nature of 
that which is obligatory on us?; and I will first state three 
alternatives which naturally present themselves : are we bound 
to do certain things, i.e. to effect certain changes in the state of 
affairs; or are we bound to be influenced by certain motives; or 
are we bound to do certain things under the influence of certain 
motives ? The question may also be put in the form, Is what I 
ought to do what I ought to do because in doing it I shall be 
initiating a certain change in the state of affairs, or because in 
doing it I shall be acting from a certain motive, or because in 
doing it I shall be initiating a certain change under the influence 
of a certain motive? I am not sure that the second view is ever 
held, as a complete account of the nature of that which is 
obligatory. We sometimes use expressions which seem to 
harmonize with it, as when we say that a judge ought not to be 
influenced by partiality for either of the parties who appear 
before him. But when we say this we do not think that this is 
the whole content of his duty, even in this particular context; 
we also think that he should not under the influence of parti- 
ality do a certain act, i.e. give an unjust decision. It would seem 
highly paradoxical to make the nature of our motive in doing 
this or that act the sole ground of one act's being our duty and 
another's not being so. For it would imply that in trying to 
discover our duty we need not attend to the facts of the outer 
situation, but have only to consider the respective merits of 
different motives from which we might act; whereas it is 
obvious that our view of the outer facts of the situation is what 
mainly affects our judgement of what we ought to do. Those 
therefore who lay stress on motive in this connexion usually 
hold the third view, that we ought to do certain acts under the 



SOME THEORIES nj 

influence of certain motives; which really means that what is 
obligatory is always a complex thing, including the doing of a 
certain act and the being influenced by a certain motive. Now 
there are certain facts that seem to support this view. Suppose 
that a certain man pays a debt, but does it not from a sense of 
justice but solely in order to avoid a legal action against him; 
or suppose that he does it in order to tempt his creditor to 
reckless speculation with the money repaid; it seems natural 
to say that such a man has not done what he ought; that in the 
first case he has not done what he was obliged to do, and that 
in the second he has done what he was definitely obliged not 
to do. Yet we shall see that this way of thinking leads to very 
awkward consequences; and I think we shall see that there is 
another way of putting the matter which, without involving 
these awkward consequences, does justice to the dissatisfaction 
which we rightly feel when some one behaves in either of the 
ways indicated. 

(i) The first objection I would urge against the view that 
what I ought to do is to act from a certain motive is this. To 
say that I ought to act from a certain motive means one of two 
things. It may mean that I ought first to have the motive, and 
in consequence to act under its influence. Now having a 
motive means, I think it will be agreed, thinking that a certain 
act would have a certain character, and desiring to do an act of 
that character. This is disguised by the brachylogical way in 
which we tend to refer to motives. We speak of love, or of pity, 
as a motive. But when we ask ourselves what we mean by 
acting from love, we must admit that we mean acting from the 
thought that a certain act would promote the well-being of a 
certain person, and from the desire to do such an act as would 
promote it; and a corresponding account can be given of pity, 
or of any other motive that can be named. To say that we 
ought to act from love is to say that we ought to think that a 
certain act would promote some one's welfare, that we ought 
to desire his welfare, and that we ought to do the act on that 
account. But it is surely clear that neither opinion nor desire is 



ii6 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

under our immediate control. It cannot be my duty to think 
that a certain act would have a certain character, because I 
cannot by an act of choice produce this opinion in myself, any 
more than I can by choice produce any other opinion. And 
again, it cannot be my duty to desire to do such an act, because 
I cannot by choice produce this desire forthwith in myself, any 
more than I can by choice produce any other desire. I can no 
doubt take steps which may in the long run lead to my having 
a certain opinion; e.g. by attending to certain features of the 
act and ignoring others. And again I can by a suitable direction 
of my attention make it likely that a certain desire will arise in 
me. I can cultivate motives; but I cannot manufacture them 
at a moment's notice; and since my duty is my duty here and 
now, it can be no part of my duty to have a certain motive, 
since I cannot at choice have it here and now. Thus of the three 
things which the theory in question says I ought to do, only 
one is left as that which it can be my duty to do, namely, to do 
a certain act. 

But to say that we ought to act from a certain motive may 
have another meaning. Some one might say 'though you cannot 
produce a motive at a moment's notice, and though it cannot be 
your duty to act from it if you have not got it, it is your duty to 
act from it if you have got it*. Suppose, for instance, that I have 
a wish to further As well-being, and think that act M would do 
so, and wish to injure 2?, and think that act N would do so, 
ought I not to act from the one motive and not from the other ? 
Undoubtedly I ought to do the act to which love points, and not 
that to which malevolence points. But it is not my duty to be 
under the influence of love; for that I already am, whereas my 
duty is that which is in the immediate future. My duty is 
simply to do the corresponding act; and what makes it my duty 
is not that in doing it I shall be acting from the wish to promote 
A*$ welfare, but the fact that I think it will promote A's welfare. 

(2) The second argument I would put forward for holding 
that our duty is to do acts, and not to do them from certain 
motives, is this: it is commonly held that the highest of all 



SOME THEORIES 117 

motives is the sense of duty. It is clear that whenever the sense 
of duty conflicts with any other motive, it is a morally better 
action to do that which we think to be our duty than to do any 
alternative act, whatever be the motive that points to it. And 
if sense of duty is the morally best motive when it points to a 
different action from that to which some other motive points, 
it is also the best single motive when it points to the same act 
to which some other motive points. It is better, for instance, to 
confer a benefit upon A from the reflective thought that that is 
the action which duty requires, than to do so from a mere 
instinctive love of A without considering the rights or the 
interests of other people. It would therefore be highly para- 
doxical to say that we ought to act from some other motive, but 
never from a sense of duty. Now it can be shown that it is 
never our duty to act from sense of duty. To say 'you ought 
to act from sense of duty' does not at first sight appear non- 
sensical. But it is seen to be so, as soon as we translate the vague 
phrase 'from sense of duty' into a more definite form. If the 
sense of duty is to be my motive for doing a certain act, it must 
be the sense that it is my duty to do the act. If, therefore, I say 
'it is my duty to do act A from the sense of duty*, this means 
'it is my duty to do act A from the sense that it is my duty to 
do act A*. And this involves a self-contradiction. The whole 
sentence says that 'it is my duty to-do-act-^-from-the-sense- 
that-it-is-my-duty- to-do-act-^'; that all this and nothing less 
than this is my duty. But the last part of the expression in- 
volves that what I really think or ought to think, is that it is 
my duty to do-act-^ simply. And if we try to amend the latter 
part of the expression to bring it into accordance with the 
theory, we get the result; 'it is my duty to do act A from the 
sense that it is my duty to do act A from the sense that it is my 
duty to do act A\ where again the final part of the expression 
is in conflict with the theory. It is clear that a further similar 
amendment, and a further, and in the end an infinite series of 
amendments would be necessary in the attempt to bring the 
last part of the expression into accordance with the theory, and 



ii8 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

that even then we should not have succeeded in doing so. Any 
such expression would finish with the words 'from the sense 
that it is my duty to do act A\ where it is implied that what I 
really think is that to do a certain act, and not to do it from the 
sense of duty, is what is my duty. 

Again, suppose that I say to you 'it is your duty to do act A 
from the sense of duty'; that means 'it is your duty to do act A 
from the sense that it is your duty to do act A\ Then / think 
that it is your duty to act from a certain motive, but I am sug- 
gesting thatyou should act under the supposition that it is your 
duty to do a certain thing, irrespective of motive, i.e. under a 
supposition which I must think false, since it contradicts my 
own. 

It is important to realize what is, and what is not, proved by 
this argument. It seems to be proved that it cannot be true that 
it is always, or even at any moment, our only duty to act from 
a sense of duty. For it is impossible to act merely from the 
sense that there are duties, or that I have duties, or even that I 
have certain particular duties, such as a duty to maximize the 
amount of good in the world. Even the more particular 
thought last mentioned, if it is to lead to any particular act, 
must be supplemented by the minor premiss that some parti- 
cular act would in fact be the act which (of all the acts open to 
me) would most increase the amount of good in the world, and 
by the conclusion that I ought to do that particular act. Action 
from the sense of duty thus involves the thought that there is a 
duty to do a particular act, not because if done it will be done from 
a sense of duty, but because it will have a particular character such 
as that of maximizing the good in the world. And it can hardly 
be claimed that it is our duty to act from a mistaken thought; so 
that the very claim that we ought to act from a sense of duty 
involves the thought that there are duties other thafi that of 
acting from a sense of duty, acts the obligatoriness of which 
does not rest on the nature of the motive from which they will 
be done. 

Can it then be contended that besides duties of this type 



SOME THEORIES 119 

there is also the duty of acting from the sense of duty ? This is 
the suggestion made in a criticism of my argument by Pro- 
fessor L. A. Reid. 1 

If I say "It is my duty to do act X from a sense of duty", I do not 
mean of course that it is my duty (as well as to do act X) to have the 
"sense" of duty which is an innate capacity, for no one can, by willing, 
produce that. This must be assumed, as we have said, if we are to 
talk ethics at all. I mean by the above sentence that it is my duty to 
summon into action, with the freedom which I possess (and which 
is also assumed to exist) my capacity for apprehending and conating 
duty. I must do the act X which is my duty, and I must do it from 
a sense of duty which is the fulfilment of an innate capacity of mine. 

'Further, there is no regress here, since the sense that X is a duty, 
and the sense that I ought to do X from a sense of duty (or that 
I ought to use in this instance the sense of duty which I possess) 
are not on the same footing. The one (a) has as its object an action, 
X, the other () has as its object a cognitional-conational state of 
mind, and whilst (a) without () is a concrete specific duty, () with- 
out (a) is a general capacity without special content. () needs some 
(a) to give it special content, so that some (a) is all the time and in 
every case the terminal object of a "sense of duty". As, in Ross's 
statement,, the "duty to do X" and the "sense of duty" are not 
"duties" on the same level, there is no formal vicious regress 
involved.' 

I must leave readers to judge whether this meets my argu- 
ment. It seems to me not do so; for (apart from the fact that 
he does not address himself very closely to the precise form 
of the infinite regress argument), one of the things of which 
Professor Reid assumes the existence 'the sense that I ought 
to do X from a sense of duty' is the very thing of which 
I was arguing for the non-existence. The theory he is main- 
taining is the theory that in any situation calling for moral 
choice \#e have two duties, to do a particular act and to be 
under the influence of the sense of duty when we do it; or he 
might prefer to say that we have a single complex duty in- 
cluding these two elements. Now we may ask, in what circum- 

1 Creative Morality ', 64-5. 



iio THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

stances are we supposed to be faced with this choice? Is it 
suggested that we are already under the predominant influence 
of the sense of duty, or that we are not ? Take the latter case 
first. It might be suggested that if one admires some one very 
greatly, and if that person urges one to act from a sense of 
duty, one might under the influence of admiration for him 
choose to act from a sense of duty. But surely this is a psycho- 
logical impossibility. We might 'wish to substitute the sense 
of duty for admiration of a person, as our predominant motive, 
but we cannot effectively choose to do so, here and now. The 
most that we could possibly effectively choose would be to 
perform certain activities, either of action or of thought, which 
would gradually lead to the substitution of the one motive 
for the other; and then it would be the performing of these 
activities, and not the being under the influence of the sense 
of duty, that we ought to choose. 

The only alternative is that we are already under the pre- 
dominant influence of the sense of duty when we decide to do 
act X from the sense of duty. Then what we should be sup- 
posed to choose is to continue under that influence up to and 
including the time at which we do the act. But it is surely clear 
that this is not what happens. It is surely clear that when we 
decide to do our immediate duty, it is what we are to do that is 
the object of our choice, and not the motive from which we are 
to do it; and that for the simple reason that we do not question 
that the sense of duty, which is now the predominant motive, 
will continue to be so till the act is done. 

To count the being under the influence of a certain motive, 
which is the precondition of the choice, as part of the object 
of choice, is to commit an error which is, in a very distant 
way, analogous to the error of treating the principles upon 
which we reason, as additional premisses from which we 
reason. What we choose is to do the act to which the already 
existing predominant motive points, and it is easy to fall into 
the error of supposing that what we choose is to act from 
that motive. What is our duty is to do the act to which the 



SOME THEORIES 121 

sense of duty points, and it is easy to fall into the error of 
supposing that what is our duty is to act from the sense of 
duty. 

My insistence that it is always our duty to do certain acts, 
and not to act from certain motives, may seem to lay me open 
to the charge of making the moral life a very discontinuous 
thing, consisting of doing 'one damned thing after another', 
and having no real unity in itself. The good life, it might be 
argued against me, consists in becoming and in being a certain 
kind of person, not in doing certain kinds of thing. I should 
like to embrace what is true in this contention, and if possible 
to reconcile it with the general view I have put forward. I may 
begin by saying that it is one of our main duties to build up 
a good character in ourselves. The duties of special obligation 
by no means exhaust the range of duty. Besides them there is 
the duty of producing as much as possible of what is good; and 
in what is good goodness of character takes, I believe, the 
highest place; and for his own character a man has a special 
responsibility, since it is more under his control than that of 
any one else. I do not doubt that it is well for us, from time to 
time, to -sit back, as it were, and review the way our character 
is developing, and take what steps seem necessary to develop 
it on better lines, by throwing ourselves, for example, into 
better surroundings. But improvement of character comes 
mainly not by anxious observation of our character but by 
faithful discharge of the other duties that arise for us hour by 
hour. This might no doubt lead to a one-sided development 
of character, since our existing surroundings might not call for 
the discharge of certain branches of duty. But, for a person 
leading his life in natural surroundings, these surroundings 
usually in fact yield occasions various enough to provide for an 
all-roui\d development of character, and to provide for it better 
than a more self-directed attention does. I think Professor N. 
Hartmann is right in insisting that the development of character 
is best achieved when it arrives 'on the back of' the discharge of 
other duties; I think that if we study the lives of the best people 



122 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

we know we shall find this to be the case. The sense of duty 
and the various virtues are developed rather by acting in 
accordance with them, in so far as we have them already, than 
by searching anxiously to develop them further. 

The only conclusion that can be drawn from our discussion 
is that our duty is to do certain things, not to do them from the 
sense of duty. If then it be still held that it is our duty to act 
from some motive, this can only mean that it is our duty to act 
from some other motive than the sense of duty, though the 
sense of duty is admittedly the highest motive; but such a 
paradoxical view is hardly likely to commend itself. 

But, it might be replied, it is surely a very poor notion of the 
content of duty that you are putting forward, if you contend 
that a man who goes through life paying his debts from purely 
selfish motives, telling the truth simply to maintain a reputa- 
tion for truthfulness, and so on, would nevertheless have done 
the whole duty of man. But to this there is the clear answer 
that a man who behaved in the way suggested, however many 
other duties he had done, would have failed to do one of 
his most important duties, that of cultivating the sense of 
duty. And it should be added that the duty of cultivating 
the sense of duty is the duty of cultivating the sense of duty, 
and not the duty of cultivating, from the sense of duty, the 
sense of duty. 

An opponent might, however, return to the charge. He 
might say 'you are admitting that the man who acts from in- 
different or bad motives must have neglected one important 
branch of duty, that of cultivating good motives. But you are 
nevertheless judging his particular acts of payment of debts and 
the like from indifferent or bad motives to be morally on the 
same level as acts of payment of debt from the sense of duty or 
some other unselfish motive; and that is what canftot be 
tolerated/ To this again the answer is quite clear. The man 
who pays his debts is doing this particular duty, from whatever 
motive he does it. But his action is morally worthless if he does 
so from certain motives, and morally worthy if he does it from 



SOME THEORIES 123 

others; for while an act's being my duty is quite independent 
of motive, the moral worth of my doing it depends mainly 1 
on the worth of the motive. I discriminate just as rigidly as 
any one could between the conscientious and the selfish act; 
but I describe this as a difference of moral worth and not as 
a difference in respect of the one act's being a doing of duty 
and the other act's not being so. Both persons alike are doing 
these particular duties, but the one is doing them as duties, 
the other is doing them as it were by accident; and between 
these two things there is the greatest possible difference of moral 
goodness. 

I would add two further considerations in support of the 
view I am urging. (3) When I set myself to ask in some parti- 
cular situation what my duty is, it is because I intend, when I 
have come to know or think some particular act to be my duty, 
to do it for that reason. Now when we ask what it is that makes 
an act my duty, we are asking what is the distinctive feature of 
that act that makes it and not some other to be my duty. Now, 
whichever of two or more acts I decide to be my duty, I shall do 
it (if I carry out my intention) from the sense of duty. The 
motive will be the same whichever I do; the motive therefore 
can be no part of that which makes the one act my duty while 
the others are not, since the same motive will be the motive of 
whichever act I do. 

That is the argument from the necessities of the case. And 
now for the corresponding a posteriori argument. (4) What is 
it to which we in fact find ourselves attending when we are 
trying to discover our duty in some situation ? Is it not clear 
that what we attend to is the nature of the possible acts, con- 
sidered apart from the motive from which we should do them 
their tendency to affect the welfare of other people in this 
way or 'in that, their quality as fulfilments of promise or 
breaches of promise, and the like? This is certainly what I find 
myself attending to, and I venture to think that others will find 
the same. 

1 Cf. pp. 306-3. 



i2 4 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

But, it may be said, is not scrutiny of one's own motives a 
well-known part of the technique of moral deliberation? I 
think it is, but not as tending to show what is one's duty. 
Suppose that some attractive proposal is made to me, which I 
am tempted to accept straight off. I shall do well to ask myself 
what is the motive which is influencing me, i.e. whether it is 
not simply the desire to have some pleasant experience; for 
there is a real danger that such a desire may lead me either never 
to consider the question what is my duty, or to sophisticate 
myself into thinking that to be my duty which would merely 
be very pleasant. But if I can refrain from acting immediately 
from the desire for pleasure, and turn to ask seriously what is 
my duty, consideration of my motives will throw no light on 
this question; this question must be decided in the light of 
quite other considerations such as I have suggested above. 
The fact that in my original consideration of a proposed act 
I was being influenced simply by its pleasantness has no ten- 
dency to show that it is not in fact my duty, any more than it 
has any tendency to show that it is. 

I turn now to consider two particular defences of -the view 
that motive is, or may be, at least an element in causing that 
which is my duty to be my duty. The first attempt I will con- 
sider is that of Mr. Joseph, in chapters 2-5 of his Some Prob- 
lems in Ethics. Mr. Joseph's general position, if I understand 
it rightly, is this. He holds that the obligatoriness of any 
action must be dependent on the goodness of something; he 
holds that it would be irrational to think of any action as being 
obligatory unless we first think of some element in the action, 
or something with which the action is connected, as good. 
*My obligation to do what is right is to the performance not 
of an act without value, but of one which, if not related*causally 
to good, must be somehow so related or in some way good 
itself/ 1 Now, as regards many obligatory actions, he accepts 
Professor Moore's account, that their obligatoriness depends 

1 Op. cit. 58. 



SOME THEORIES 125 

on their tendency to produce good results; that is implied in 
the sentence quoted. 1 But he thinks that this account does not 
cover all obligatory action, and he thinks this for very much 
the same reasons that I do; he thinks, for instance, that it does 
not account for the sense that we have of an obligation to 
fulfil promises even when, so far as we can see, no more good 
would be caused by keeping the promise than by breaking it. 
Where, then, is he to find the goodness that makes such acts 
right ? He first attempts to find it in the motive from which the 
act i? done. He defends this view by urging first that all the 
acts to which moral judgements apply are motived acts. So 
far, I have no disposition to quarrel with him. There are 
indeed cases which at first sight seem to cast doubt on this 
statement. Take, for instance, the case of some one who knows 
that there is an invalid in a house but nevertheless stamps 
noisily upstairs. His making of the noise may have no motive; 
it may be the unthinking following of a habit. But we should 
certainly condemn a man who behaves so. And it is easy to see 
that this is but one of a large class of what may be called 
thoughtless acts, which are unmotived and which nevertheless 
we certainly condemn. Probably, however, we ought to be 
condemning the agent not for the thoughtless act, but for 
failure to do an act which if it had been done would have 
been done from a motive, viz. the act of controlling his 
habitual tendency to noisiness. The making of the noise is 
not merely not a motived act, but not even an intentional act, 
and no true subject of moral judgement. In fact, is it not clear 
that an intentional act must be a motived act ? An intentional 
act is the conscious setting of oneself to bring some change into 
being, or to prevent some change from coming into being, and 
it seems clear that we never do this except when there is some 
feature, either in the act or in its consequences, which we wish 
to bring into being. The desire to do this will be the motive 
of the act. 

I agree, then, that all the acts that are subjects of moral judge- 

1 Cf. Some Problems in Ethics, 28. 



126 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

ment are motived acts. But I cannot agree with Mr. Joseph's 
analysis of a motived act. He analyses it into two things 
(i) the motive and (2) a consequent physical movement. 1 He 
overlooks what seems to me a plainly existent third thing, viz. 
the setting oneself to produce the change in question. This is 
not a physical movement; it is a mental activity. And it is quite 
plainly to be distinguished from the motive. The motive is the 
wish to bring into being a state of things which we think will 
have a particular character, e.g. pleasantness. This is quite 
distinct from the setting oneself to bring into being a state of 
affairs which, we think, will have that character but will have 
others as well. And while it is true that no physical movement 
can be a subject of moral judgement, there is no antecedent 
reason why the setting oneself to produce a physical movement 
should not be the subject of the predicate right or wrong. I 
would add that the occurrence of a physical change is not 
even a necessary part of the whole thing which we call an 
action. No doubt in most cases what I set myself to do 
is to effect some change in the state of my body, and further 
consequential changes, as when I set myself to tell the truth 
or to pay a debt. But there is also such a thing as setting 
oneself to learn the truth or to improve one's own character, 
and here what one sets oneself to produce is a change in the 
state of one's own mind or of one's own character. Thus for 
the analysis of the motived action into motive and physical 
change, I would substitute the analysis of it into the setting 
oneself to effect some change, which may be either physical or 
mental, and the motive which leads us to do so, which in turn 
is analysable into the thought that the act will have a certain 
character and the desire to do an act of that character. Not 
merely, however, does Mr. Joseph ignore a vital element in a 
motived action, viz. the setting oneself to effect a certain 
change. He proceeds to speak as if a motived action were such 
a unity that no true ethical statement can be made about any 
element in it. 

1 Ibid. 38. 



SOME THEORIES 127 

'No act exists except in the doing of it, and in the doing of it there is 
a motive; and you cannot separate the doing of it from the motive 
without substituting for action in the moral sense action in the 
physical, mere movements of bodies/ 1 

* A man who was fond of oysters might eat a plateful put before him 
for the sake of their flavour; a man who loathed them might do so to 
avoid hurting his host's feelings; a man who loathed or was in- 
different to them might do so to prevent his neighbour, whom he 
knew to be fond of them and he disliked, from having two portions. 
I think these are three different acts, one morally good or else 
kindly, one morally bad or spiteful, one indifferent. They are not 
three instances of one act, viz. eating a plateful of Oysters/ 2 

They are not of course three merely numerically different 
instances of something specifically the same. They are speci- 
fically different, since the motives are different. And in virtue 
of this difference three very different moral judgements are 
passed upon them, just as Mr. Joseph has said; one is morally 
good, one indifferent, one bad. But nevertheless they are 
specifically different instances of something that is genetically 
the same, viz. of the act of setting oneself to eat a plateful of 
oysters; and while in virtue of their specific difference they 
differ in respect of moral goodness, there is no reason at all why 
in virtue of their generic resemblance they may not agree in 
possessing another moral attribute, viz. Tightness (or wrongness). 
Mr. Joseph speaks of the wrongness of 'separating' the act 
from the motive; and the word covers a dangerous ambiguity. 
Does he mean that it is wrong to suppose that the act could exist 
without a motive? I quite agree; I agree that all intentional 
acts are motived acts. But if he means that it is wrong to 
consider the act independently of the motive, to abstract from 
the motive and ask whether the act, which must be accompanied 
by some^ motive, has not some moral character of its awn inde- 
pendent of whatever motive it is accompanied by, then I must 
reply that this is simply an instance of a type of objection which 
if it could properly be made here could equally be made to all 

1 Ibid. 38. * Ibid. 45. 



128 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

abstract thinking. A body cannot have size without having 
shape, nor shape without having size; but it can have a certain 
size independently of its shape, or a certain shape independently 
of its size, and true statements may be made about either 
separately. A musical note cannot have pitch without having 
intensity, nor intensity without having pitch; but its pitch does 
not vary with its intensity, nor its intensity with its pitch, and 
pitch and intensity can profitably be studied separately. We 
shall not know the whole truth about the note till we have con- 
sidered both, and we shall not know the whole truth about a 
motived act till we have considered both act and motive. But 
it is equally true that we shall never attain the whole truth 
about it till we have analysed it into its constituents and con- 
sidered them first in isolation. 

It may be remarked in passing that Mr. Joseph, who here 
attacks the consideration of acts apart from their motives, in a 
different context does this very thing himself, viz. where he 
points out that as regards acts which produce good results their 
tightness can be seen in certain cases to depend solely on the 
goodness of the results, without consideration of the motives. 1 
In fact it is pretty clear that he thinks that the rightness of most 
right acts depends on their consequences (or intended, or 
probable, consequences) that it is only two rather special 
types of right act that owe their rightness to their motives. 2 

So far I have only established that besides a motive and a 
physical change there is a third thing the setting oneself to 
bring about a change, or in other words an intentional act 
and that this is a possible subject of the predicate right or wrong; 
we have still to consider whether it is so in fact, (i) The first 
kind of case that we may consider is one propounded by Mr. 
Joseph. 

'If I am prompted or inclined by affection to do some 'kindness 
that will cost me money, and simultaneously by desire of amuse- 
ment to spend the money on myself, I may judge that I ought rather 

1 Some Problems in Ethics, 28. 

2 Ibid, 92-4. For the two types see my p. 129, n. 2. 



SOME THEORIES 129 

to do the kindness; and the tightness because of which I judge that 
I ought to do it is its having the goodness that lies in its being an 
expression of affection, the alternative action, which is an expression 
of die desire for my own amusement, having thereby an inferior 
goodness or none at all/ 1 

That is a possible view. But clearly quite a different account 
might be given. It might be said that we simply see that any 
act tending to produce pleasure for another has therefore some 
degree of obligatoriness, quite apart from its motive, and that 
any act tending simply to produce pleasure for oneself has no 
degree of obligatoriness, whatever its motive. It is not very 
easy to choose between the two views. But I suggest a test 
case which will, I think, enable us to choose between them. 
Suppose that there are two acts possible for me. By one I 
shall produce a great deal of pleasure for a large number of 
people, but also a small amount of pain for some one A whom 
I dislike; and I may feel sure that if I do it I shall do it from a 
mixture of two motives, benevolence towards this set of people 
and malevolence towards A. By the other act I shall produce 
a much less amount of pleasure for the set of people concerned, 
but no pa-in to A^ and I may feel sure that if I do it I shall do it 
simply from benevolence. On Mr. Joseph's theory the right- 
ness of whichever act is right in such a case should depend partly 
on the goodness of its consequences, and partly on the goodness 
of its motive. 2 Therefore I should, before I can decide which I 
ought to do, have to ask myself anxiously whether the worth 
of my pure motive in the second case exceeds the worth of my 
mixed motive in the first case by a greater or less amount than 
that by which the net good to be produced in the first case 
exceeds the net good to be produced in the second. I suggest 

1 Op. cit. 47. 

2 His theory introduces goodness of motive as making right the act that is right, 
only in two types of case, viz. (i) where we think we ought to produce a pleasure 
for another rather than an equal pleasure for ourselves, (2) in such a case as promise- 
keeping, where we think we ought to fulfil a promise even when this does not seem 
likely to produce more good than an alternative act would. But if motive is the deter- 
minant of rightness here, it ought to be a determinant of lightness in other cases, such 
as the test case I suggest above. 

4584 v 



i 3 o THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

that we do not in fact perform this comparison, but that, where 
some special obligation like that of keeping promises does not 
enter into the case, we judge directly that the act which will 
produce the greatest balance of good for others is the right 
act, 1 the motive not being considered at all 

I would add a further suggestion, which may or may not be 
true. If it is not true, it will not affect the truth of what I have 
been contending for; if it is true, it will tend to support it. 
Mr. Joseph thinks that we directly judge an act motived by the 
desire to give pleasure to be better than one motived by the 
desire to get pleasure, and for that reason judge that we ought 
to do the first rather than the second. I suggest that when we 
have reached moral maturity, we take one motive, the desire 
to do one's duty, as our standard of moral goodness, and judge 
other motives by the degree of their approximation to this. 
By the desire to do one's duty I understand the desire to act 
with the fullest possible regard to the various morally signifi- 
cant characteristics that the possible alternative acts would have. 
Now plainly a tendency to promote the happiness of others is 
one of these; and it seems to me equally clear that we do not 
think a tendency to promote one's own pleasure to.be one of 
them. The reason why we judge kindness to be a better motive 
than the desire for pleasure is that it reveals, not indeed a reflec- 
tive attention to all the morally significant aspects of an act, 
but at any rate an instinctive sensitiveness to one of them, viz. 
to its tendency to promote the happiness of others; while 
selfishness reveals only sensitiveness to a characteristic which 
we think has no moral significance, viz. the tendency to pro- 
mote one's own happiness. I believe that it is on such a prin- 
ciple that we evaluate motives, good or bad; and it will be seen 
that it presupposes a prior judgement on acts as being right, 
wrong, or indifferent, in view of their characteristics apart from 
motive. 

(2) What now are we to say of an act done from sense of 

1 Subject to the consideration that there is a more stringent obligation not to inflict 
injury on others, than there is to confer benefit on them; cf. p. 75. 



SOME THEORIES 131 

duty ? Are we to say that its obligatoriness depends on its being 
done from that motive? It might seem obvious that it cannot 
be so, because the sense of duty is already the sense that a cer- 
tain action is obligatory; i.e. we are already satisfied of the 
lightness of the act by a consideration of its nature apart from 
its motive, and do not need to be satisfied of its lightness as we 
were (according to Mr. Joseph) in the former case, 1 viz. by 
considering the superiority of the motive from which if done 
it would be done. Mr. Joseph admits this: 2 *Nor can the act 
owe its Tightness to being a manifestation of that sense of 
duty to which it owes its morality/ Yet he seems to be hanker- 
ing after an explanation of our sense of the lightness of such 
acts as promise-keeping, by the motive from which if done 
they will be done. For he goes on immediately to say: 'But I 
believe it is possible to distinguish between the sense of duty 
in general, and that of a duty to realize a goodness connected 
with the particular principle of the action which is recognized 
as my duty now/ The suggestion seems to be: 'The reason 
why I ought to keep a promise is that if I keep it I shall be 
acting out of respect for a certain principle, and that this is a 
better motive than that from which the alternative act would 
proceed/ 1 have to distinguish', says Mr. Joseph, 3 'between 
the consciousness of duty in general, and that of my duty to 
act in a particular way here and now. It is this latter that may 
be the motive making the tightness of the action which, when 
moved by the former to ask myself what I ought to do, I 
recognize as the ground why one act rather than another is 
my duty now: this latter which, in such a case, takes the place 
of a particular good motive like affection/ This, I confess, 
seems to me an impossible position. What makes the act right 
is, we are told, a certain motive; and this motive is the thought 
that the objective act (or act considered apart from motive) is 
my duty here and now. This is surely impossible. I am repre- 
sented both as thinking that I ought to do a certain act because 
of its own nature (e.g. because it is the keeping of a promise) 

1 That mentioned on p. 128, supra. 2 Some Problems in Ethics, 48. 3 IbicL 50. 



i 3 2 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

and as thinking that I ought to do it because if I do it I shall be 
doing it from this good motive. But I cannot think both things 
together, and if I think the first I do not need to think the second 
in order to be convinced that the act is my duty. 

I am quite willing to admit Mr. Joseph's distinction between 
the consciousness of duty in general, and that of my duty to act 
in a particular way here and now. I might, for instance, think 
that I ought here and now to keep a certain promise, without 
realizing that in all normal circumstances there is something 
that is my duty. I might be alive to the duty of promise-keep- 
ing and blind to the duty of promoting the general good, or 
vice versa. It is not necessary to suppose that the sense of duty 
develops pan passu with regard to all the branches of duty. 
There are many people in whom fidelity to promises is strong 
but care for the general welfare weak, and others in whom the 
opposite state of affairs is found. But when Mr. Joseph tries to 
distinguish between the 'urgency' of the thought of a promise 
made and the sense of an obligation to fulfil it, and to make the 
obligation to fulfil it depend on the fact that if fulfilled it will be 
fulfilled as a result of the urgency of the thought, 1 he is (I be- 
lieve) making a distinction without a difference. 'For if the 
urgent thought of the promise is to be such a motive as could 
give the action from it moral value, it must be the thought of the 
promise as binding, i.e. as being something I ought to fulfil; we 
are back at the immediate intuition of the lightness of fulfilling 
promises, and the reference to the excellence of the motive as 
making the act right is both unnecessary and inconsistent with 
what has gone before, since in what has gone before it has been 
admitted that the act is thought of as right apart from its motive. 
That Mr. Joseph is really making a distinction where there is no 
difference is seen incidentally from the fact that while he says 2 
that the 'thought of a particular action' (e.g. of keeping a 
promise) of which he is speaking need not be the thought of an 
obligation, he describes it 3 as the thought of my duty to act in a 
particular way here and now. 

1 Some Probltms in Ethics, 50-1. 2 Ibid. 57. 3 Ibid. yo. 



SOME THEORIES 133 

Mr. Joseph, however, does not remain content with the 
view put forward in these early chapters, that when the good- 
ness connected with an action, on which its tightness depends, 
is not to be found in its consequences, it is to be found in its 
motive. In his eighth chapter he recurs to the question what 
makes right acts right. He finds that besides the cases covered 
by the utilitarian view, there are two other types of case: (i) 
'the practice of what Hume called the indirect virtues, such as 
justice, veracity, fidelity to promises', 1 and (2) 'an example of 
the second kind occurs when a man judges that he ought to do 
one rather than another of two actions, the resultant goods to 
be expected from which appear equal, but would consist, if he 
acted one way, in his enjoyment of certain advantages; if he 
acted the other way, in another man's doing so'. 2 These, it will 
be recognized, are just the types of act whose Tightness in the 
early part of his book he describes as flowing from the motive 
from which they are done. As regards both these types of 
action, he rejects 3 the utilitarian theory that such actions are 
made right by the fact that they produce or are likely to pro- 
duce good results. But he also rejects his former explanation 
the view that they are made right by proceeding from good 
motives. Or at least he admits that there are cases in which 
there is no motive for the doing of either of two actions except 
the sense of duty, and he admits that then 'in the judgement 
which I have to make before action, when I ask which course 
is right, which do I owe to do, it is assumed that the same 
motive will have determined me in the adoption of either course; 
and the determining difference must be a goodness in one 
course that is not in the other'. 4 He goes on to offer a different 
account of what it is in which this goodness lies, and this will 
demand later consideration. 5 The important thing is that he 
admits that where we act from a sense of duty alone, theaction's 
being a duty cannot spring from its being done from a sense of 
duty. 

1 Ibid. 92. 2 Ibid. 94. 3 Ibid. 94. 

4 Ibid. 97. 5 See pp. 140-5. 



i 3 4 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

I turn now to a second attempt to vindicate the view that the 
tightness of right acts springs from the goodness of motives; 
that put forward by Professor Field in his article on Kant's 
First Moral Principle. 1 His view arises in this way. In con- 
sidering the problem of conflict of duties, which arises when, 
for instance, we ask ourselves whether we ought to tell a parti- 
cular lie or break a particular promise when we think that a 
balance of good consequences will arise from our doing so, I 
had said that our answer will sometimes be 'yes' and some- 
times be 'no', so that we cannot maintain with Kant that it is 
always wrong to tell a lie or break a promise. I had added that 
there are certain moral principles that remain always true, e.g. that 
there is always aprimafacie obligation to tell the truth or keep 
a promise, so that telling the truth or keeping a promise always 
tends as such to be right, even though in particular cases this 
tendency may be overborne by some other tendency which the 
act may have in virtue of some other rubric under which it falls, 
such as failing to produce a great advantage for some one else. 
This seems to me to be a straightforward account of what we 
really think about the matter. We think that whichever of the 
alternative acts we do in such a case is in one respect 'Suitable to 
the situation and in another not, and in consequence we have 
a certain not bad conscience, but compunction, if we either 
tell the truth and damn the consequences or secure the good 
consequences by telling a lie. Professor Field thinks this is a 
true account of how we feel about such a case, when we do not 
reflect deeply, but that it does not go to the root of the matter. 
The root difficulty arises, he thinks, from the fact that there are 
no kinds of act which as such either always are wrong (as Kant 
says) or even always tend to be wrong (as I have suggested). 
And he suggests that if we turn to motives, there and there only 
shall we find things that always have a certain moral character; 
hatred of a person and cruelty being always bad, and benevo- 
lence being presumably always good. Judgements such as that 
cruelty is bad are, he thinks, the primary moral judgements. 

1 Mind,y\i (1932), pp. 17-36. 



SOME THEORIES 135 

Now, he points out, there is a special connexion between 
certain motives and certain types of acts. The truth may be 
told from a variety of motives, but truth-telling has a special 
connexion with one motive, viz. the desire to tell the truth. 
Pain may be inflicted from a variety of motives, but the inflic- 
tion of pain has a special connexion with cruelty, or the desire 
to inflict pain for its own sake. And because we judge a certain 
motive to be good or bad, we judge the kind of act which is 
thus specially connected with it to be prima facie right or 
wrong. Our judgement of acts is thus based on our judgement 
of motives. 

Professor Field, it will be seen, goes a great deal farther than 
Mr. Joseph. Mr. Joseph thinks that the Tightness of most right 
acts is due to the goodness of that which they bring about, or 
are meant to bring about, and it is only with regard to two 
classes of acts 1 that, finding no special good in what they bring 
about, he tries to find the ground of their lightness in the motive 
from which they proceed. Professor Field holds that the only 
primary moral facts are the facts that certain motives are good 
and certain others bad, and on these facts and these alone he 
bases the lightness of certain acts and the wrongness of others. 
Against this general view I would refer to the arguments I have 
already put forward, 2 which I believe to show that it is never 
on the goodness or badness of motives that the Tightness or 
wrongness of acts is based. In particular, the sense of duty is 
always the sense of a duty to do an act of a certain kind, and to 
say that it is the sense of a duty to act from a sense of duty in- 
volves a self-contradiction. 3 This, the highest motive, already 
involves the recognition of a Tightness and wrongness which is 
independent of motive. 

Professor Field cites, as an example of the mode of reasoning 
which he thinks we use, a story that is told of Plato, that he 
said to a delinquent slave, 'I should have punished you, if I had 
not been angry/ But if Plato actually reasoned on Professor 
Field's lines, he can only be judged to have dealt very perfunc- 

1 Cf. p. 129, n. 2, supra. 2 pp. 114-24. 3 Cf. pp. 116-21. 



136 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

torily with a case of conscience. His problem was, Should I 
inflict pain on this slave? If he really decided not to do so on 
the sole ground that he was angry, he would have been judging 
the suggested act in the light only of one of the characteristics 
it would have, viz. that it would be a satisfaction of his anger, 
and ignoring all its other characteristics, such as that it would 
be the punishment of a person who deserved punishment, that 
it was likely to have certain effects, some good, some bad, on 
the slave, that it was likely to deter other slaves from behaving 
similarly, and so on; whereas clearly he ought to have considered 
all these other circumstances. What I suppose Plato to have done 
was something very different to have realized that he was so 
much under the influence of anger that he was not in a position 
to judge rightly of these other characteristics of the act, and 
therefore to have thought it safer not to do without further 
reflection an act which in his sober judgement he was just as 
likely to think wrong as right. 

But, apart from the general objections to a view which 
makes the Tightness of acts depend on the goodness of motives, 
we must consider whether Professor Field's account explains 
what we think in cases of 'conflict of duties', which is the 
problem that both the theory of prima facie obligations and his 
own theory are put forward to account for. Let us take a case 
in which an act, if done, will be done not from the motive from 
which it 'normally 5 proceeds, e.g. when a doctor considers 
whether he should deceive a patient, when the deception may 
be expected to be for the patient's good. Professor Field agrees 
that in such a case the doctor, if he is a good man, will, even if 
he decides to tell the lie, have some compunction in doing so. 
He thinks that the doctor infers from the badness of the love of 
telling lies that an act belonging to a type which would nor- 
mally be connected with this motive, viz. the telling of the lie 
in question, has a tendency to be wrong, and this, he thinks, is 
what lies at the basis of our sense of prima facie obligations. 
The suggestion seems to me erroneous. Suppose that we grant, 
merely for the sake of argument, that the badness of a motive 



SOME THEORIES 137 

tends to make wrong an act proceeding from that motive* How 
can it tend to make wrong, or even be thought to tend to make 
wrong, an act which if done will not be done from that motive, 
but from a desire for the good of the patient ? If the badness of 
a motive makes acts which proceed from it to be wrong, then 
we may say in a statistical sense that acts of deceit tend to be 
wrong because love of deceit is wrong; for acts of deceit 
normally proceed from love of deceit; 1 but an individual act of 
deceit which does not proceed from this motive can have no ten- 
dency to be wrong because most acts of deceit proceed from the 
love of deceit, and the love of deceit is bad. If, then, Professor 
Field's view were right, the doctor should have no compunc- 
tion at all about telling the lie, and no objection to telling it. 
He should regard as sheer confusion of thought the notion that 
this lie can have any tendency to be wrong because other lies in 
virtue of proceeding from a different motive tend to be wrong. 
But the plain fact is that he thinks that his act's being a lie is a 
factor adverse to its being his duty, even if he decides that this 
is overborne by other factors tending to make it his duty. 

Suppose the opposite process to take place, and all is plain 
sailing. Because we judge that the infliction of pain has a ten- 
dency to be wrong, we think that being attracted to the inflic- 
tion of pain as such, i.e. in virtue of a characteristic in which it 
is known to tend to be wrong, is morally bad. The motive is 
judged bad because of the prima facie wrongness of that which 
it is an attraction towards. 

I conclude that Professor Field's theory does not explain our 
actual judgements in cases of apparent conflict of duties. And I 
suggest that the view that we judge acts right or wrong in 
virtue of the motives from which they would normally proceed, 
and not motives good or bad in virtue of the prima facie Tight- 
ness or wrongness of the actions which they are attractions or 
inclinations towards, is a putting of the cart before the horse. 

Something should be said of Professor Field's reply to 

1 I admit this merely for the sake of argument; in fact most acts of deceit proceed 
from the desire of advantage to oneself. 



138 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

another of the arguments I put forward for the view that our 
duty is to do certain kinds of act and not to act from certain 
motives, viz. that we cannot choose to act from a particular 
motive. In reply to this he says 1 that 'in any sense in which we 
can choose what action we shall do, we can choose what motive 
we shall act from'. Now, choosing to do a certain act does not 
necessarily involve choosing to act from a certain motive. For 
there are acts which might proceed from any one of two or 
more motives, and in such a case choosing to do the act is not 
choosing to do it from any one of the motives, though it must 
be from one of the motives that we make the choice. Let us 
take, however, the case in which there is only one motive from 
which the act could be done; say, sense of duty, or desire for 
pleasure. Then it might seem that in choosing the act we are 
choosing the motive, since the act can only be done from one 
motive. But this is not really so. You might as well say that if 
I choose to walk down the High Street of Oxford I am choos- 
ing to be still alive, and choosing that the High Street shall 
exist, when the time comes at which I mean to take the walk; 
for certainly I cannot walk down the street unless I am alive 
and it exists. We do not choose that these things shall be; we 
choose on the assumption that they will be, or perhaps we 
should say 'without thinking of the possibility that they may 
not be*. Similarly, though in the case supposed we could not 
do the act except from the motive in question, what happens, 
strictly speaking, is not that we choose to act from that 
motive, but that from that motive we choose to do the act in 
question, on the assumption that the motive will still exist in 
our mind, or will have come to exist again, when the time for 
doing the act arrives. When the choice or decision precedes the 
act by only a short interval, the assumption is usually justified; 
but when the interval is long, we are only too familiar with the 
fact that the motive often fails to be present, or to be present 
with sufficient strength, when it is needed. 

It has been rather a surprise to me that so many writers have 

* Mind, xli (1932), 33. 



SOME THEORIES 139 

fallen foul of the view I expressed in The Right and the Good 
that obligatoriness attaches to acts independently of their 
motives, and moral goodness to them in consequence of their 
motives. I had thought that I was simply stating in a very 
explicit way what had always been implicit in the main lines of 
ethical theory. Possibly the doctrine is less likely to be rejected 
as a paradox if I indicate what a respectable ancestry it has. It 
is implicit in the doctrine of Aristotle, in which the whole con- 
tent of the just, for example of that which it is incumbent on 
us to do, in this particular department of duty is described, 
without any reference to the motive of the agent, as arising 
from the nature of the situation in which he is acting (i.e. from 
the rights of the various persons affected by his action), and do- 
ing that which is just, doing this particular part of our duty, is 
described as consisting simply in the effecting of the proper 
distribution, compensation, or exchange all this being distin- 
guished from the doing of what is just 'as just men do it', 1 i.e. 
from the motive of love of justice. It is clearly implied that the 
one is what is obligatory, while the other is that which has 
moral goodness. 

Again, the doctrine is stated very explicitly by Kant, when 
near the beginning of the Grundlegung 2 he distinguishes be- 
tween doing what is your duty and acting from duty (i.e. from 
a sense of duty). He clearly implies that you can do the former 
even when your motive is a purely selfish one; and I believe 
that he consistently describes action from a sense of duty not as 
the only action that is right, but as the only action that has 
moral worth, thus making the motive (or, as he prefers to call 
it, the principle or maxim of action) the ground of moral good- 
ness, but the nature of the action apart from its motive the 
ground of its lightness. 

It is hardly necessary to point out that in this respect, if in no 
other, Utilitarianism joins hands with Kant. For utilitarians, the 
rightness of an act is determined by its consequences or else by 
its expected or probable consequences, and in no wise by its 

1 Eth. Nic. 1105 b 8. a Akad, Ausgabe, iv. 397-9 (Abbott's translation, 15-18). 



i 4 o THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

motive; witness Mill's well-known phrase 'the motive has 
nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much 
with the worth of the agent'. 1 And in this respect Mill's 
example is followed by the revised version of Utilitarianism 
associated with the name of Professor Moore. 

This is perhaps the most convenient place to discuss the final 
part of Mr. Joseph's theory. 2 It has no direct connexion with 
the general view we have been considering, that the motive 
from which an act will be done, if it is done, forms, always or 
sometimes, all or part of the reason why we ought to do it. But 
in his mind it arises, as that view arose, from a consideration of 
actions whose obligatoriness cannot be accounted for, as that of 
many actions can, by their tending to produce good results. He 
has already insisted 3 that the word 'right* is ambiguous; that 
besides standing for the fact that an act ought to be done, it 
stands for a common characteristic in virtue of which the acts 
that ought to be done ought to be done, and this Tightness is, 
he maintains, 'a sort of goodness'. 4 Whether * right can thus 
stand for the supposed common characteristic in virtue of 
which all* acts that ought to be done ought to be done, is only a 
question about the use of language; the important question is 
whether Mr. Joseph can detect such a common characteristic, 
which is itself a form of goodness. He makes this impossible 
for himself, if I have grasped his view aright, by accepting the 
instrumental or utilitarian account of the source of the obliga- 
toriness of many I think, most of the acts we ought to do. 
Most acts that are right are so, according to him, because they 
are productive of good. But productivity of good is, I would 
maintain, not a form of goodness in any strict sense of the word 
*good\ and is most certainly not the same thing which he de- 
scribes as the basis of the obligatoriness of two other kinds of 
act, to which he thinks the utilitarian account inapplicable. 5 

1 Utilitarianism, copyright editions, 26. Cf. the note on the same page. 

2 Referred to above, p. 133. 3 Some Problems in Ethics, ch. vi. 
4 Ibid. 92. 5 Viz. those mentioned above, p. 1 29, n. 2. 



SOME THEORIES 141 

As regards both these kinds of action, he rejects 1 the utilitarian 
theory that such actions are made right by the fact that 
they produce, or are likely to produce, good results. And 
he rejects 2 the view that they are made right by their pro- 
ceeding from good motives. His view, then, is that such actions 
are obligatory because they have a Tightness, which is a form of 
goodness, independent both of results and of motives. And his 
positive suggestion as to the source of the tightness of such an 
act is that it is the goodness 'of the system which it forms with 
its context'. 3 

This view seems to me open to serious criticism on two 
grounds, (i) If I contemplate one of the acts in question, an 
act, say, in which a promise is kept, or an act in which A brings 
into being a certain pleasure for .Z?, when he might have brought 
into being art equal or greater pleasure for himself, and ask myself 
whether it is good, apart both from results and from motives, I 
can find no goodness in it. The fact is that when some one 
keeps a promise we can see no intrinsic worth in that; we must 
first know from what motive the promise was kept. It may have 
been kept in order later to procure some satisfaction from the 
promisee; then the keeping of die promise from that motive is 
indifferent. It may have been kept to spite some third person; 
the keeping of it from that motive is positively bad. 

If I am right in holding that such acts are not as such good 
(but only the doing of them from a sense of duty or from some 
other good motive), then Mr. Joseph's view as to the source of 
the goodness he ascribes to them must be wrong. But since 
some readers may not have been convinced by what I have said 
on the first head, it is worth while (2) to examine his view as to 
the source of the goodness of such acts. This view is differently 
expressed by him in different places. One of his ways of putting 
it is to say that the goodness belongs not so much to the act but 
to 'the system which it forms with its context'. 4 Another is 
that it belongs to 'the rule of action of which it' (the action) 'is 

1 Some Problems In Ethics, 94. 2 Ibid. 97. 

3 Ibid. 97. 4 Ibid. 97. 



THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

a manifestation/ 1 But finally 2 we are told that 'we must look 
to the whole form of life in some community, to which all the 
actions manifesting this rule would belong, and ask whether it, 
or some other form of life is better, which would be lived by 
the community instead, if this rule were not helping to deter- 
mine it. If we judge that it is better, then the particular action 
is right, for the sake of the better system to which it belongs'. 
The view has perhaps been suggested by Kant's attempt to 
test the tightness of an act by asking whether the principle 
involved in it could without self-contradiction be made a 
universal law of conduct for all rational beings. 3 But Mr. 
Joseph does not contend that the rule of life, of which keeping 
promises is one manifestation, is the only self-consistent rule; 
he sees that Kant failed to make this out. 4 What he claims is 
that 'the form of life requiring the particular action in the work- 
ing out of its plan' is better than any other. 5 The suggestion, 
then, is that we have an imaginative vision of a certain kind of 
life in a community which we see would be better than any 
other, and that, reading off its implications, we see that among 
them are, for instance, that we should keep promises, that we 
should produce happiness for others rather than for ourselves, 
and the like. To this I have three objections, (i) One is that 
already made, that we can see no intrinsic goodness attaching to 
the life of a community merely because promises are kept in it. 
Before judging that the life of a promise-keeping community 
was good, we should insist on knowing whether the promises 
were being kept from good or from indifferent or from bad 
motives. (2) Mr. Joseph seems to me to be putting the cart 
before the horse. We do not start with a general notion of the 
ideal life of a community, and read off, as consequences that can 
be deduced from this, that promises should be kept, and the like. 
Rather, because we see that promises ought to be kept, that 
people should make restitution for the ills they have done, and 
render good for the good they have received, as well as promot- 

1 Sam* Problem* in Ethics, 98. 2 Ibid. 98. 3 Cf. ibid. 98. 

* Ibid. 99. * Ibid. 99. 



SOME THEORIES 143 

ing the general welfare, we buildup from these intuitive insights 
the conception of an ideal community in which people would do 
these things, and do them because they know them to be right. 
If Mr. Joseph holds that we read the particular types of duty off 
as consequences from a single ideal, he may fairly be asked to 
state the general ideal in much more definite language than he 
ever does, and exhibit the deduction of the several branches of 
duty from it. 

(3) No element in a system can owe its goodness merely to 
the goodness of the system; for neither presence in a good 
system, nor even presence as a necessary element in a good 
system, can guarantee the goodness of everything that is thus 
present. Thus, whatever be the merits of Mr. Joseph's view 
that certain actions owe their Tightness to inclusion in a good 
system, they cannot be good by virtue of this, and there- 
fore their Tightness is not, as he maintains it is, a sort of 
goodness. 

In fact his view, so far from finding a single source of the 
obligatoriness of all acts that are obligatory, describes some as 
being obligatory because their consequences are good, 1 some 
as being 550 because their motives are good, 2 and some as being 
so because the system to which they belong is good. 3 In no 
case is lightness shown to be itself 'a sort of goodness*. 

Some light is thrown on his view by a comparison which he 
later 4 makes between ethics and mathematics. In mathematics 

'a man may come to know, independently one of another, many 
facts between which he later discovers necessary connexion. Indeed 
in this field it is hard to doubt that all facts are mutually involved, 
though we cannot show this. Some have urged that, if this is so, the 
apprehension of the facts in their isolation is not properly to be 
called knowledge of them; we do not really know anything unless 
we know it in all its linkages. Perhaps there is a parallel here be- 
tween Ethics and Mathematics. We think we know of certain actions 
separately that we ought to do or forbear them. But if the obliga- 

1 Cf. pp. 124-5, supra. 2 Cf. pp. 125-32, supra. 

3 Cf. pp. 140-1, supra. 4 Some Problems of Ethics, 108. 



144 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

tion is grounded in some goodness or badness which the action 
would have, and which is not independent of its being so linked 
with other actions as to make good or bad the form of life to which 
it and they would belong, it might be said that we could not really 
know our obligation till we viewed the action in these linkages. Yet 
in both fields some isolated judgments seem true, though the facts 
cannot be so independent of each other as thejudgments are isolated/ 

Mr. Joseph seems to me to adopt, though rather half-heart- 
edly, a coherence view of truth both as regards mathematics 
and as regards ethics. That view, if accepted whole-heart- 
edly, involves that no proposition can be known to be true 
until it can be seen to imply and be implied by all the other 
true propositions within the given field (ethics, say, or mathe- 
matics). And since, admittedly, we do not know all the linkages 
of implication between our axioms, it follows, on this view, 
that we do not know the axioms, and in fact strictly know 
nothing. But Mr. Joseph is in two respects half-hearted, (a) He 
admits that we do know the axioms. 'A man may come to know, 1 
independently one of another, many facts between which he 
later discovers necessary connexion.' Then we do know the 
axioms, and even if we should later be able to discover logical 
connexions between them, that cannot rob them of their self- 
evidence. () He treats mathematics and ethics as independent 
fields of knowledge, but if he were consistent in his allegiance to 
the coherence theory he should say that nothing can be known 
in ethics till it can be seen to imply and be implied by what is 
true in mathematics, and vice versa. We could not know that 
promises should be kept unless we could see it to be implied by 
what we know about the nature of numbers; and we could not 
know that 2 and 2 make 4 unless we could see it to be implied 
by what we know about duty. 

As against this theory, what I suggest is that both ift mathe- 
matics and in ethics we have certain crystal-clear intuitions 
from which we build up all that we can know about the nature 
of numbers and the nature of duty. And, to return to our proper 

1 Italics mine, 



SOME THEORIES 145 

subject, we do not read offour knowledge of particular branches 
of duty from a single ideal of the good life, but build up our 
ideal of the good life from intuitions into particular branches of 
duty. In the course of our thinking we come to know more, 
but we should never come to know more if we did not know 
what we start with. 



4584 



vn 

THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 
POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 

I TURN now to consider more precisely the general nature of 
what it is that moral laws bid us to do. Let me start by sup- 
posing that we accept the general account of rightness that has 
been offered, viz. that 'right' means 'suitable, in a unique and 
indefinable way which we may express by the phrase "morally 
suitable", to the situation in which an agent finds himselP. 
This situation contains two elements, what we may call the 
objective and the subjective element. The objective element 
consists of the facts about the various persons and things in- 
volved in the situation, in virtue of which a certain act would in 
fact be the best possible fulfilment of the various prima facie 
obligations resting on the agent. Suppose, for instance, that the 
situation is one in which none of the special obligations such as 
that of keeping a promise or of making reparation for an injury 
rests upon the agent, but only the responsibility for bringing 
as much good as possible into being. Then the act which would 
in fact produce the maximum good will be that which best fits 
the objective element of the situation, and will be in this respect 
the right act. 

The subjective element consists of the agent's thoughts about 
the situation. These are as much parts of the total situation as 
are the objective facts. And the act which is morally suitable to 
them, i.e. the act which the agent, in view of his opinion about 
the situation, thinks will be the maximum fulfilment of obliga- 
tion, will be in that respect right; while in order to be completely 
right an act will have to be suitable both to the objective and to 
the subjective element, which it can be only if the agent's 
opinions correspond to the realities of the situation. 

It is clear that when we call an act right we sometimes mean 
that it suits the objective features of the situation, and some- 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 147 

times that it suits the subjective features. And when people 
express different opinions about the tightness or wrongness of 
an act, the difference is often due to the fact that one of them is 
thinking of objective and the other of subjective rightness. The 
recognition of the difference between the two is therefore in 
itself important as tending to reconcile what might otherwise 
seem irreconcilable differences of opinion. But the question 
remains, which of the characteristics objective or subjective 
rightness is ethically the more important, which of the two 
acts is that which we ought to do. There are various considera- 
tions that tell in favour of the objective view. When we are in 
a difficult moral situation, what we want to know is not what 
act we think likely to produce certain results, but what act will 
produce certain results. And we are often driven to admit that 
we do not know what we ought to do, while if what we ought 
to do depended on what we think, we could always ascertain 
by reflection what we think, and therefore what we ought to do. 

Again, moral laws are often expressed in a form which 
implies the objective view. It will be enough to take two 
instances. The moral law about promise-keeping is usually 
expressed .in the form 'keep your promises', and a promise is 
usually expressed as a promise to effect a certain change in the 
situation, e.g. to restore a book to a friend. If we accept the 
moral principle as it is usually expressed, it follows that the act 
we ought to do is that which will in fact lead to our friend's 
reception of the book, and that if we so deal with the book that 
it reaches him we shall have done our duty, while if we so deal 
with it that it does not reach him we shall not have done our 
duty, even if in the first case we have dealt carelessly with it and 
in the second case carefully. This no doubt seems paradoxical, 
but I formerly thought that the paradox could be removed by 
saying that while the first act is the right act, the latter is the 
morally better act, since it is done with greater conscientious- 
ness. 

Again, the moral principle relating to the production of good 
is usually couched in the form 'do that which will produce most 



i 4 8 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

good', and this, like the usual formulation of the duty of 
promise-keeping, implies the objective view. It implies that 
not the act which the agent thinks will produce che most good, 
but that which will in fact produce the most good, is the act 
that ought to be done. And, as before, we might hold that we 
had removed the apparent paradox involved in calling a care- 
less act which in fact produced most good the right act, by 
admitting that it is morally inferior to a more careful and con- 
scientious act which in fact produced less good. 

Nevertheless, I have come to hold the opposite opinion, that 
it is the subjectively right act that is obligatory. I owe my con- 
version to Professor Prichard's Lecture on 'Duty and Igno- 
rance of Fact'. His reasoning is so conclusive that I cannot do 
better than reproduce the main features of his argument. He 
starts by pointing out that the moral rules which are the 
generalization of our thought as to the characteristics which 
make particular acts which are our duties to be duties, habitually 
take the form of saying we ought to do so-and-so, to speak the 
truth, to carry out the rules of one's government, &c. He 
points out that the doing something which is implied in such 
formulations always means causing a change of state of some 
existing thing; that e.g. telling the truth means causing some 
one else to have a true opinion about the state of one's own 
belief about something. Further, when we reflect on the 
changes which we think we ought to bring about, we find that 
they are always changes which we can only bring about in- 
directly, by bringing about something else directly e.g. we 
can cause another man to know our thoughts only by causing 
certain sounds, or making certain marks on paper, or the like. 
Thus the general form of a moral rule is 'a man ought, or ought 
not, to bring about a thing of a certain kind indirectly'. But 
when we bring about something indirectly, the resnlt is not 
wholly due to us. The only changes we can be said quite 
strictly to bring about are those which we bring about directly. 
Thus if a moral rule is stated in terms of 'doing something' and 
of 'bringing about something' in the strict sense, it will take the 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 149 

form, 'A man ought to do such an act or acts as will cause a 
thing of the kind A to assume a state of the kind x\ 

But this expression is elliptical in two respects. In saying 
that a man ought to support his indigent parents, we do not 
mean that he should support them whether he has or has not 
such parents, or that he should support them whether he can or 
not. Thus the full form of a moral rule will be: 'When the 
situation in which a man is contains a thing of the kind A 
capable of having a state of the kind x effected in it, and when 
also it is such that some state or combination of states which 
the man can bring about directly will cause a state of the kind 
x in A) the man ought to bring about that state or combination 
of states'. 

The formulation of any moral rule in this way, which we 
have seen to be the proper expression of our normal formula- 
tion of moral laws, implies the objective view of the basis of 
moral obligation. And this view, Professor Prichard points 
out, we find in two ways attractive, (i) We tend naturally to 
think that obligation does not depend on our thought about 
the situation, but on the nature of the situation itself; and when 
we try to .resolve our doubt about what our duty is, we often 
try to do so by resolving our doubt about the facts. And (2) 
this view implies that if some action is a duty, it would actually 
bring about some state referred to in a moral rule, such as the 
recovery of a sick man, and would not merely be an act which 
we think likely to do so; and we value this implication because 
we should like to think that if we have done a duty, we have 
actually achieved some such change. 

Yet this view has awkward consequences, (i) In order to 
know that some moral rule is applicable to me here and now, I 
must know (a) that the situation contains a thing of the kind A 
capable of having a state of the kind x effected in it, and () that 
it is such that some act that I can do would cause this A to 
assume a state of the kind x. Now (a) is not always fulfilled. 
I may not know whether my parents are in difficulties, or 
whether a man I meet is ill. And () is never fulfilled; I never 



i yo THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

know nor can come to know that some state which I can bring 
about will produce an effect of the kind x, though I may have 
reason to think it. Thus if duty be such as the objective theory 
conceives it to be, I can never know that I have any particular 
duty, or even that any one has ever had or will ever have a duty. 

It is worth while to note in passing just what is proved and 
what is not proved by this argument. In constructing or in 
following a geometrical proof, we never know that we have 
before us a triangle, for instance; but we treat the figure before 
us as if it were a triangle, and we come to know that if it were, 
it would have certain properties. Similarly, we never know 
that an act we could do would produce a certain effect, but we 
may think that it would, and may know that if it would, it 
would be our duty to do it; and we might proceed from this to 
generalized moral rules, which would be hypothetical in 
character; e.g. 'if you can ever produce a true opinion in the 
mind of some one else as to what you think, you ought to do 
so/ Thus the objective view is not fatal to the possibility of 
knowing moral rules. But it is fatal to the possibility of recog- 
nizing particular duties incumbent on us here and now, since 
we can never know, for instance, that we can produce a true 
opinion as to our thought in any one else's mind. 

Further consequences of the objective view are (2) that we 
can never do a duty because it is a duty, since this must mean 
'because we know it to be a duty', (3) that some past act of 
mine may have been morally obligatory though I believed it 
was one I ought not to do, and (4) that I may do some act which 
is obligatory, though I do not even suspect that it will have the 
effect which renders it a duty. 

These difficulties all arise from supposing that an act is made 
my duty by the objective facts of the situation. The only alter- 
native is to suppose that it is made a duty by the subjective 
facts of the situation, viz. by my state of knowledge or opinion 
about the facts of the case. The most obvious way of describ- 
ing the state of mind which makes an act my duty is to say that 
it is my thinking certain things likely; e.g. that a man near me 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 151 

has fainted and that my shouting would revive him. This view 
has the advantage of making it possible to discover our duties; 
for we can always or almost always know what it is that we 
think likely. This view also has the advantage of making it 
possible to do a duty knowing it to be a duty. It is, however, 
open to this objection, that since the question whether a 
certain act is a duty depends not merely on our thinking that 
there is some probability of its having a certain effect, but on our 
thinking it at least in a certain degree likely that it will, 'there 
will be border-line cases in which I shall be unable to discover 
whether the degree to which I think the act likely to confer 
a certain benefit is sufficient to render it a duty'. 1 Thus even on 
this view I may have a duty without being able to discover that 
I have it although there are other duties which we can dis- 
cover ourselves to have. 

The only way to choose between the objective and the sub- 
jective view is to ask ourselves which corresponds better with 
what we actually think to be duties. Professor Prichard points 
out two ways in which our thought seems to imply the objec- 
tive view, (i) We often think without question both that the 
situation contains something in a certain state, and that some 
action we could do would produce a change in it of a certain 
kind, and then we think without question that we ought to do 
the action. Here we seem to be implying that what makes us 
bound to do the act is not our opinion, but the fact, that the 
situation is of a certain kind and that the act would have a 
certain effect in that situation. (2) We often seek to change the 
mind of some one else about a duty by trying to convince him 
that he is wrong about the facts. 'Thus, where A thinks he 
ought to vote for X rather than F, B may try to convince A 
that he ought to vote for Y by arguing that X and Y will, if 
elected, act otherwise than as ^expects/ 2 Here we seem to imply 
that what A ought to do depends not on how he thinks X and 
Y would behave, but on how they would in fact behave. 

On the other hand, much of our ordinary thought is in con- 

1 Op, tit. 13. * Ibid 17. 



THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

flict with the objective view. (A) One instance will suffice to 
show this. Suppose one is driving a car from a side-road into 
a main road; the question arises, ought one to slow down be- 
fore entering the main road. 

'If the objective view be right, (i) there will be a duty to slow down 
only if in fact there is traffic; (2) we shall be entitled only to think it 
likely . . . that we are bound to slow down; and (3) if afterwards we 
find no traffic, we ought to conclude that our opinion that we were 
bound to slow down was mistaken. . . . Indeed the objective view 
is in direct conflict with all the numerous cases in which we think 
without question that we ought to do something which we are 
thinking of as of the nature of an insurance in the interest of some 
one else.* 1 

(B) 'The extent to which our ordinary thought involves the sub- 
jective view is usually obscured for us by our tendency to think that 
the terms "likely" and "probable" refer to facts in nature. For we 
are apt, for instance, to express our thought that some one has pro- 
bably fainted, and that shouting would probably revive him, by the 
statements: "He has probably fainted" and "Shouting would pro- 
bably revive him". We are then apt to think that these statements 
state the existence of certain facts in nature called probabilities/ 2 

But there cannot be probabilities in nature. Whatever the 
precise nature of the fact expressed by the statement 'X has 
probably fainted' may be, the fact must consist in our mind's 
being in a certain state. Once this is realized it becomes clear 
that most of our ordinary thought involves the subjective view. 

(C) Even when we try to change some one else's mind about 
a duty, we do not really imply the objective view. 'This is 
shown by our thinking that when our attempt to change his 
opinion about the facts is over, then, whether we have or have 
not succeeded, the question whether he is bound to do the 
action will turn on the nature of his opinion about thf facts/ 3 
We are not really trying to convince him that his duty is not 
what he thinks it is, but, thinking that his doing of his duty 
would result in very bad consequences, we try to put him into 

1 Ibid. 17-18. 2 Ibid. 1 8. 3 Ibid. 19. 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 153 

a different state of opinion on the facts, a state of opinion in 
which an act which we think will have good consequences will 
have become his duty, because his opinion about the facts has 
changed. 

Thus on the whole the subjective view is more in agreement 
with our ordinary thought than the objective. Yet it is exposed 
to various difficulties, of which the chief are (i) that on this 
view knowledge of the existence of border-line cases precludes 
us from thinking that we can always discern our duties, and (2) 
(a more fundamental difficulty) that this view represents the 
duty of doing some action as depending not on the fact that the 
action would have a certain character, but on our thinking it 
likely that it would. To maintain this seems impossible, and 
we seem therefore to be in an impasse. 

Professor Prichard now turns to consider a difficulty which 
is common to both views, and which if well founded will lead 
us to modify both. We have hitherto assumed that an obliga- 
tion is an obligation to do some action, i.e. to produce some 
change in something. But we must ask whether this is true. 
An obligation must be an obligation to be active, and not to be 
affected, iji a particular way. To say that an obligation is 
always an obligation to do some action implies that there is a 
particular kind of activity, distinct from other activities such 
as thinking or imagining, whose nature is to be the bringing 
about of something. But there is no type of mental activity of 
which the general nature is to be the producing of a change in 
some physical object, such as the moving of a hand or a foot. 
On the contrary, if we ask how we move a hand or a foot, the 
natural answer is that we do so by setting ourselves to do so. 
There is a type of mental activity of which the generic nature is 
to be the setting oneself to effect a change in a physical object, 
and of which setting oneself to move a hand or a foot is an 
instance. The change in the physical object, when it follows, 
is merely the result the intended result, of course of the 
mental activity. 

Again, if we ask what we mean when we say 1 can make a 



154 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

loud noise', we find that what we mean is not that there is a 
special kind of activity of which we are capable consisting in 
bringing about a loud noise, but rather that a special kind of 
activity of which we are capable, consisting of setting ourselves 
to make a loud noise, would have a loud noise as an effect. 

Two conclusions follow: (i) that the true answer to any 
question of the form 'can I do so-and-so ?' must be 'I don't 
know'. This is obvious in certain cases. Obviously I cannot 
know whether I can succeed in threading a needle. But even 
where we usually assume that we can effect certain changes, 
such as the movement of a hand or a foot, we can never know 
that we can, since we may have become paralysed since we last 
tried. And (2) whatever we are setting ourselves to do, we 
never know that we are doing what we are setting ourselves to 
do. The mental activity may be of exactly the same kind 
whether we do or do not by performing it bring about the 
bodily change intended. 

'As regards an obligation, the moral is obvious. It is simply 
that, contrary to the implication of ordinary language and of 
moral rules in particular, an obligation must be an obligation, 
not to do something, but to perform an activity of, a totally 
different kind, that of setting or exerting ourselves to do some- 
thing, i.e. to bring something about/ 1 

The question now arises whether the substitution of 'setting 
ourselves to bring about some result* for 'bringing about some 
result' makes it easier to decide between the objective and the 
subjective view. Professor Prichard points out that in one 
respect it does. 'For once it has become common ground that 
the kind of activity which an obligation is an obligation to 
perform is one which may bring about nothing at all, viz. 
setting ourselves to bring about something, we are less in- 
clined to think that, for there to be an obligation to perform 
some particular activity, it must have a certain indirect effect. 
To this extent the modification diminishes the force of the 
objective view without in any way impairing that of its rival'. 2 

1 Ibid. 24. * Ibid. 2*. 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 155 

But the main difficulty of the subjective view remains, that it 
represents 'the obligation to do some action as depending not 
on the fact that the action would have a certain character, if we 
were to do it, but on our thinking it likely that it would'. 1 

This difficulty Professor Prichard removes in the following 
way: 

4 We are apt', he says, 'to think of an obligation to do some action 
as if it were, like its goodness or badness, a sort of quality or 
character of the action. . . . And this tendency is fostered by our 
habit of using the terms "right" and "wrong" as equivalents for 
"ought" and "ought not". For when we express our thought that 
we ought, or ought not, to do some action by saying that the act 
would be right, or wrong, our language inevitably implies that the 
obligation or disobligation is a certain character which the act would 
have if we were to do it. ... And when we think this, we inevitably 
go on tQ think that the obligation or disobligation must depend on 
some character which the act would have. But, as we recognize 
when we reflect, there are no such characteristics of an action as 
ought-to-be-doneness and ought-not-to-be-doneness. This is 
obvious; for, since the existence of an obligation to do some action 
cannot possibly depend on actual performance of the action, the 
obligation.cannot itself be a property which the action would have, 
if it were done. What does exist is the fact that you, or that I, ought, 
or ought not, to do a certain action, or rather to set ourselves to do 
a certain action. And when we make an assertion containing the 
term "ought" or "ought not", that to which we are attributing a 
certain character is not a certain activity but a certain man. If our 
being bound to set ourselves to do some action were a character 
which the activity would have, its existence would, no doubt, have 
to depend on the fact that the activity would have a certain character, 
and it could not depend on our thinking that it would. Yet since, in 
fact, it is a character of ourselves, there is nothing to prevent its 
existence depending on our having certain thoughts about the 
situation -and, therefore, about the nature of the activity in respect 
of the effects. Indeed, for this reason, its existence must depend 
upon some fact about ourselves. And while the truth could not be 
expressed by saying: "My setting myself to do so-and-so would be 

1 Ibid. 25. 



156 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

right, because / think that it would have a certain effect'' a state- 
ment which would be as vicious in principle as the statement: 
"Doing so-and-so would be right because I think it would be right" 
there is nothing to prevent its being expressible in the form: "/ 
ought to set myself to do so-and-so, because / think that it would 
have a certain effect/' 1 

This last part of Professor Prichard's theory, while both true 
and important, is not necessary for the saving of the subjective 
view. For even if we think that there is a character of right- 
ness that attaches to an activity, it will, on the subjective view 
as now restated, be a character which belongs to the activity 
not because of the activity's being thought to have a certain 
character but because of its actually being of a certain character, 
the character of being the setting oneself to bring about a certain 
effect. This character it actually has, and there is in principle no 
reason why it should not be the ground of a further character of 
tightness. Thus, even apart from Professor Prichard's last con- 
tention, the subjective view is safe from the objections which 
seemed fatal to it. 

There is another mode of argument by which we may, I 
think, satisfy ourselves of the truth of the subjective view. It 
might be agreed, I believe, that the act which a man in any 
situation ought to do is that which it would be reasonable for 
him to do if he wanted to do his duty in that situation. And 
I think we can on reflection discover two possible but wrong 
answers to the question what it would be reasonable for him to 
do. (i) There may be some change, by setting himself to 
bring which about he would in fact produce the result the pro- 
duction of which would be objectively right, e.g. would suc- 
ceed in returning to a friend a book he had promised to return; 
a change, however, which no human foresight could foresee to 
be about to have this effect e.g. a book despatched in the most 
careless way may by the vigilance of the Post Office or of some 
individual unexpectedly reach its destination. And it might 

1 Ibid. 26-7. 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 157 

happen that owing to unforeseen circumstances the careful 
despatch of the book might fail to lead to its reaching its desti- 
nation. Yet if no human foresight can foresee these facts, no 
one would say that it was reasonable for a man who wanted to 
do his duty by his friend to despatch the book carelessly, since 
the successful result of this neither is nor could be foreseen by 
the sender. (2) There may be circumstances which the agent 
does not foresee, but which a wiser or better-informed person 
might foresee, which would in fact cause a certain activity of 
the agent's to produce a certain result, the production of which 
would be objectively right. Yet it would not be reasonable for 
the agent, if he wished to do his duty, to perform such an 
activity, since ex hypothesi he neither knows nor thinks the 
activity would have this result. The fact that other people 
might know or think this has no tendency to make it reason- 
able for him to act thus. What he ought to set himself to do, then, 
is neither that which will in fact produce the result in question, 
nor that which in the judgement of better-informed people is 
likely to produce it, but that which he thinks likely to produce it. 
Yet we do not think that an agent should necessarily forth- 
with perfprm that activity of self-exertion which in his present 
state of opinion about the facts seems to him likely to produce 
the objectively right result. We often raise the problem what 
we ought to do, some time before the time at which whatever 
action is to be taken must be taken. In such a case the agent 
should have before his mind, as the ideal, that self-exertion 
which would in fact produce the right result. This, however, 
he cannot know; and so he must fall back on a secondary ideal, 
viz. that self-exertion which on the fullest consideration that 
he can give to the matter within the time at his disposal would 
seem most likely to produce the result. And he should set him- 
self to act only when either the time-limit is on the verge of 
arriving, or he has reached the point of thinking that no further 
consideration would enable him to judge better of the circum- 
stances and of the probable effects of alternative exertions. 
What he does after such consideration may reasonably be 



i 5 8 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

expected to be nearer to the objectively right act than what he 
would do after a first hasty consideration. 

At first sight it might seem that in substituting 'setting him- 
self to bring about a certain result' as that which the agent 
ought to do rather than 'bringing about a certain result*, we 
have, contrary to our earlier conclusion, introduced motive 
into the structure of that which we ought to do. For 'to set 
oneself to bring about a certain result' seems to be perilously 
near to being actuated to action by the desire to bring about 
that result; i.e. by a certain motive. Yet the two things are 
quite different. Suppose we imagine, for instance, that in some 
situation none of the special responsibilities such as that of 
keeping a promise is in question, and the only responsibility 
that arises is that of setting ourselves to produce as much good 
as possible. What we ought to do, then, strictly speaking, is 
just to set ourselves to produce this. And that is different from 
doing so from any special motive, such as sense of duty or 
benevolence. For we may set ourselves to produce the result 
from any one of a variety of motives. We may think, for 
instance, that in setting ourselves to produce the greatest good 
we are also likely to acquire a good reputation for ourselves, or 
to get in a high degree the pleasure of having a good con- 
science; and either of these may be our motive. But a self- 
exertion which may proceed from any one of several motives 
cannot be identified with self-exertion from any one motive; 
and if it is the self-exertion that is our duty, it is not the self- 
exertion from any particular motive that is our duty. Or again, 
suppose that the main responsibility in some situation is that of 
fulfilling a promise, e.g. of paying a debt. We may set our- 
selves to do this either from the motive of sense of duty, or 
from the wish to avoid a legal action against us, or from the 
wish to injure our creditor by putting him in possession of 
more money than is good for him. A self-exertion which may 
arise from any one of these motives is not identical with a self- 
exertion from the sense of duty, and it is the former and not the 
latter that is our duty. 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 159 

We are now in a position to see that two views which we 
have rejected owe their plausibility to an ambiguity in the 
notion of right action* Aright action means in general one that 
is morally suitable to the situation. But an action may be de- 
scribed as morally suitable to the situation either because it is 
suitable to the objective elements in the situation, i.e. because 
it is that which would in fact produce the result which we think 
we ought to aim at; or because it is suitable to the subjective 
elements in the situation, i.e. to our thoughts about the situa- 
tion and about the probable results of alternative actions. Both 
actions are undeniably, in different respects, right; and because 
the former is right in a respect in which the latter is not, it is 
easy to fall into the supposition that it is it that is obligatory. 
But it is also true that the latter is right in a respect in which the 
former is not, and we have seen good reasons for holding that 
it is it that is in fact obligatory. 

Again, an action done from a certain motive is undeniably 
right, or morally suitable to a situation, in a sense in which a 
mere action, irrespective of its motive, is not. Where, for 
instance, the only responsibility is that of producing a maximum 
of good, it is more completely fitting that we should set our- 
selves to produce a maximum of good, from the sense of duty 
to do so, than that we should barely set ourselves to produce 
a maximum of good, it may be from some unworthy motive. 
And where the fulfilling of a promise is the main responsibility, 
it is more completely fitting that we should set ourselves to 
fulfil it from the sense of duty, than that we should barely set 
ourselves to fulfil it. And since the action from a certain motive 
is more fully fitting, morally, than the bare action, more com- 
pletely right, it is easy to fall into the supposition that it is our 
duty. But we have seen good reasons for holding that this 
view, although it is one into which we easily fall, is not the 
true view. Both the view that it is our duty to produce certain 
results, and the view that it is our duty to act from certain 
motives, are natural enough perversions of what seems to be 
the true view, that it is our duty to set ourselves to produce 



160 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

certain results. It is sometimes said that it is neither results nor 
motives but intentions that make actions right or w^ong, and 
this is almost true. There is a certain danger in laying the stress 
on intention, since intentions may remain idle; but it would be 
true to say that the nature of what is intended in an act is 
what makes the act right or wrong. 

The most important point, I think, which emerges from 
Professor Prichard's discussion is that the only thing to which 
a man can be morally obliged is what I will call a self-exertion, 
a setting oneself to effect this or that change or set of changes. 
He cannot be obliged to perform an 'act', in the ordinary sense. 
For the noun 'act', as we ordinarily use it, stands for a complex 
thing; viz. the causing of a certain change by setting oneself 
to cause it; and this includes as an element in it the occurrence 
of the change. It would be absurd to say 'I killed him, and in 
consequence he died'; to say 'I killed him' includes the state- 
ment that he died. It would not, indeed, be absurd to say 'I hit 
him, and in consequence he died', but it would be absurd to say 
'I hit him, and in consequence he suffered a blow'. Now the 
occurrence of the bodily change involved in the use of such 
words or phrases as 'kill', 'hit', 'tell the truth' cannot even be 
part of what is right or of what is wrong. This follows 
directly from the fact that if a man had, without knowing it, 
become paralysed since the last time he had tried to effect the 
given type of change, his self-exertion, though it would not 
produce the effect, would obviously be of exactly the same 
character as it would have been if he had remained unparalysed 
and it had therefore produced the effect. The exertion is all that 
is his and therefore all that he can be morally obliged to; 
whether the result follows is due to certain causal laws which 
he can perhaps know but certainly cannot control, and to a 
circumstance, viz. his being or not being paralysed, which he 
cannot control, and cannot know until he performs the exer- 
tion. 

Now, assuming that the only thing that can be obligatory or 
disobligatory is a self-exertion, it can be seen that the only 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 161 

thing to which there can be aprimafacie obligation, or to which 
someone else can have a claim, is also a self-exertion. For only 
those things are prima facie obligatory which, if there are no 
more pressing prima facie obligations, are actually obligatory. 
No one, for instance, can, have a claim to have his life saved by 
me ; the most that any one can have is a claim to my self-exertion 
to that end. 

At the same time, it is very natural that in our ordinary 
thought we should think that it is actions and riot self-exertions 
that are right or wrong. For (i) the most direct results of the 
self-exertion, those within the agent's own body, have followed 
so constantly, within his experience, upon the self-exertion, that 
he not unnaturally thinks of the self-exertion + its most direct 
results as if they formed one single event; and (2) where the 
self-exertion produces its desired result, there is a further con- 
nexion between it and its result, over and above that which 
there usually is between a cause and its result, viz. that the one 
is just the attempt to produce the other. 

Now we may distinguish several different self-exertions 
which might have some claim to be considered right, or what 
the agent.ought to do: 

(A) The self-exertion which is morally most suitable to the 
objective circumstances, in the sense of 'the circumstances other 
than the agent's own state of knowledge or opinion'; e.g., in a 
case where only beneficence is in question, the self-exertion 
which would in fact benefit humanity most. 

(B) The self-exertion which is morally most suitable to the 
agent's state of mind about the circumstances, in which there 
may be included ignorance and false opinion as well as know- 
ledge and true opinion; i.e. the self-exertion which would be 
morally most suitable if the circumstances were such as he 
supposes* them to be. 

(C) The self-exertion which he thinks to be morally most 
suitable in the circumstances as he takes them to be. 

(B) may differ from (A), in consequence of a divergence 
from the truth in the agent's opinion about the circumstances. 

4584 M 



161 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

(C) may differ from (B), in virtue of a divergence from truth 
in the agent's opinion as to what is morally suitable to the sup- 
posed circumstances. The one difference is due to a divergence 
from truth on a non-moral question, the other to a divergence 
from truth on a moral question. 

All these acts are in different senses right or morally suitable 
the first suitable to the objective circumstances, the second 
to the agent's opinion on the non-moral question, the third to 
his opinion on the moral question. Which of them is the 
action that the agent ought to do? Professor Prichard's argu- 
ment seems to me to have shown that it is not the first. No one 
would say that the driver of a car had done right in driving fast 
round a corner if he thought there might quite probably be a 
car meeting him but in fact there were none. But the question 
may be asked, should we not go a stage farther and say that it 
is rather the third than the second that is the right act, since that 
alone is suitable to the agent's complete state of opinion, includ- 
ing his opinion on the moral as well as on the non-moral 
question. The suggestion is at first sight open to the objection 
that we should be saying that act (C) is the right act for the 
agent to do, simply because he thinks it is the right act. It is 
clear on epistemological grounds that nothing can have a 
character simply by being thought to have it; but we are not 
suggesting that act (C) has a certain character by being thought 
to have that character. The agent thinks it is the act suitable to, 
or harmonious with, his opinion on the question 'what are the 
circumstances? 5 ; and in consequence it is the act suitable to his 
opinion on the question 'what is the act suitable to the circum- 
stances ?'. Thus the act has one suitability by being thought to 
have another. If our suggestion thus escapes the epistemo- 
logical objection, there seems to be no objection to saying that 
it is the suitability that act (C) has, and not that which act (B) 
has, that makes an act one's duty. For, just as it was felt to be 
paradoxical to say 'you ought to do the act which will produce 
certain consequences, because it will produce these conse- 
quences, and though you think it will not', so it is paradoxical 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 163 

to say 'you ought to do the act which is most suitable to your 
opinion about the circumstances, because it is the most suitable 
to your opinion, and though you think it is not'. 

It is only by thus distinguishing different tightnesses or 
suitabilities and by making duty depend on the last of the three, 
that we can do justice to a thought which is inseparable from 
the thought of duty. This is the thought that anything that we 
ought to do must be something that we not only can do, but 
can do with the knowledge or at least the opinion that it is our 
duty. Suppose that we blame a man for not doing his duty, and 
he replies 'but I did not know or even think it to be my duty, 
and therefore could not do it with the knowledge or even the 
opinion that it was my duty 5 ; it would be a poor response to 
say 'no, but you might have done it from some quite different 
motive'; for clearly a man who had acted from a different 
motive Would have been more blameworthy than the man who 
did what he honestly thought was his duty. Now, when a man's 
opinion about the circumstances is mistaken, he cannot do act 
A with the knowledge or even the opinion that it is right in 
sense A. And when his moral insight is at fault, he cannot do 
act B with the knowledge or even the opinion that it is right 
in sense B. But even if both his opinion about the facts and his 
moral insight are at fault, he can always do act C with the know- 
ledge that it is right in sense C, i.e. that it is the act which is 
most suitable to his opinion on the question what act is most 
suitable to the circumstances as he takes them to be. 

There is another consideration which tends to show that it 
is what is right in this sense that we think an agent is obliged to 
do. The notion of obligation carries with it very strongly the 
notion that the non-discharge of an obligation is blameworthy. 
Now suppose that of two men one does that which he mis- 
takenly believes to be his objective duty, and the other does 
that which is his objective duty, believing it not to be so, we 
should regard the former as at least less blameworthy than the 
latter; and in fact we should not regard the former as directly 
blameable for the act, but only, if at all, for previous acts 



164 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

by which he has blunted his sense of what is objectively 
right. 

It may at first sight seem dangerous to admit this double dose 
of subjectivity into the answer to the question 'what is my 
duty?', by making it depend on my opinion as to what is 
morally suitable to what is in my opinion the state of the facts; 
and that is, I think, the strongest apparent objection to which 
this account is exposed. But 'subjective* is notoriously one of 
the vaguest of philosophical terms, and we must ask ourselves 
whether the account given above is a subjective account in any 
objectionable sense. The kind of subjective account which it 
seems to me important to avoid is one which says that acts are 
made to have some moral characteristic by being thought to 
have it, or (which comes to the same thing) that the opinion 
that an act has a certain characteristic is no more true and no 
more false than the opinion that it has not. Now, we 'are not 
giving such an account of 'right* in any of the three senses we 
have distinguished. In any particular situation in which a 
particular man is placed, there is one act which, if he had 'com- 
plete knowledge about the circumstances and a completely 
correct moral insight, he would see to be right in the first 
sense. There is no suspicion, even, of subjectivity in what is 
right in this sense. Secondly, suppose him to be mistaken 
about the circumstances; there is an act which is right in the 
second sense, in the sense of being appropriate to his opinion 
about the circumstances. That act is not made right in this 
second sense by being thought to be so; it bears the same sort 
of relation to the supposed situation as the first act does to the 
actual situation; the same kind of harmony exists in the one 
case as in the other; the harmony is not created by being 
thought to exist, it exists independently of the agent's thought 
about it. Thirdly, the agent may be mistaken in his moral 
judgement of his duty in the supposed situation; but so long as 
he thinks as he does, the act in which he acts on his conviction 
has the same sort of harmony with his conviction as an act in 
which a man acts on a correct conviction has with that con- 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 165 

viction, a harmony which is not created by his opinion but is 
there for all to apprehend. 

Error in this region arises, it would seem, only if we confuse, 
as we often do, one kind of rightness with another. Although, 
if one acts with imperfect moral insight or in accordance with 
insight that is morally correct but based on an incorrect view 
of the facts, one does what is right in one sense, and in what is 
from one point of view the most important sense, since it is 
that to which praise is appropriate (for a man is more to be 
blamed for acting against his convictions than for doing con- 
trary to his convictions an act that is right in the first sense), no 
one should be content to have done so. He should be rather 
ashamed of having done an act which owes its rightness to its 
harmony with incorrect moral insight or incorrect opinion 
about tjie facts, and should realize that it would have been 
better if he could have amended his moral insight or his opinion 
of the circumstances, or both, so that in doing what was right in 
the third sense he would have also been doing what was right 
in the second or even in the first. If to act in accordance with 
one's conviction is always, in one sense, to do one's duty, it 
remains true that one's conscience may be very much mistaken 
and in need of improvement. 

We may now, in the light of this discussion, consider the 
question of the relation of the morally good act to the right 
act. Is a morally good act necessarily right? Is a right act 
necessarily morally good ? Or are the two characteristics quite 
independent ? 

If by a right act we mean an objectively right act, i.e. the act 
which out of all those open to a particular agent in particular 
circumstances will in fact produce the maximum fulfilment of 
the claims that exist against him, we must maintain the com- 
plete non-dependence of moral goodness and rightness upon 
one another. For an action's being morally good depends 
mainly 1 on the motive from which it is done, and the goodness 
of the motive neither guarantees nor is guaranteed by the nature 

1 Cf. pp. 306-8, 325-6. 



166 THE GENERAL NATURE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

of the results that the act actually produces. Take, for instance, 
the case in which the motive is the sense of duty, i.e. the desire 
to do one's duty + the thought that a certain act is one's duty. 
This thought in turn rests on the thought that the act will pro- 
duce certain results; and the thought that it will do so furnishes 
no guarantee that it actually will do so. And conversely, of 
course, the fact that it will do so furnishes no guarantee that it 
was done from the thought that it would do so and the thought 
that therefore it was our duty to do it. Thus a morally good act 
may be objectively wrong, and an objectively right act may be 
morally bad, or indifferent. 

It is important to maintain this, as a corrective of the view 
that, so long as we act conscientiously, all is well. Conscience, 
when not accompanied by clear insight into the situation, and 
by foresight of the effects which acts are likely to have, has 
often led to acts which objectively considered were deplorably 
wrong, which failed lamentably to fulfil the prima facie obliga- 
tions of the agent. On the other hand, we are not bound to 
think that there is no connexion between moral goodness and 
objective lightness, that a morally good act is no more likely 
to be objectively right than a morally bad or indifferent act, 
or an objectively right act no more likely to be morally good 
than an objectively wrong act. For the motive of a morally 
good act is either the sense of duty or the desire to bring some 
particular good thing into being, as being good, and an act so 
motived is far more likely to conform to objective duty than 
one of which the motive is either self-interest or malevolence. 

Again, the act which is right in the first of the two subjective 
senses, the act which would be right if the situation were as the 
agent supposes it to be, is not necessarily morally good, nor 
vice versa. For on the one hand, such an act may be done with 
a bad motive, and will not then be morally good; and on the 
other hand, an act done with a good motive, and therefore 
morally good, may through failure of moral insight not be the 
act which would actually be right in the circumstances as the 
agent supposes them to be. 



POSITIVE CONSIDERATION OF THE QUESTION 167 

The relation between tightness in the third sense, conformity 
to the agent's thought on the question as to what is right in the 
circumstances, and moral goodness, cannot be stated so simply. 
The motive of a morally good act may be either the sense of 
duty or the wish to bring some good thing into being, as being 
good. In the first case the morally good act is necessarily right 
in the third sense; it is the act which harmonizes with the agent's 
thought about his duty. In the second case, it is not so. The 
act may be done without the agent's thinking about his duty, 
and then the act cannot be said to harmonize with the agent's 
thought about his duty, since he has no such thought. Or 
again he may think that act A is his duty, but do act B from 
some other good motive (e.g. that of kindness to an individual), 
and in such a case his act has some moral goodness, but does not 
harmonize with his thought about his duty, and is not right in 
the third sense. 1 

And conversely, Tightness in this sense never guarantees 
moral goodness. For an act may be the act which the agent 
thinks to be his duty, and yet be done from an indifferent or 
bad motive, and therefore be morally indifferent or bad. 

1 Later, however, I will mention (pp. 306-9) a consideration which enables us to 
state a closer connexion between moral goodness and tightness than that pointed out 
in this paragraph. 



VIII 
THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

I TURN next to the epistemological questions connected 
with duty. Can we be said to know our duty ? And if we can, 
how do we acquire this knowledge ? I will start with a simple 
case. I am walking along the street, and I see a blind man at a 
loss to get across the street through the stream of traffic. I 
probably do not ask myself what I ought to do, but more or 
less instinctively take him by the arm and pilot him across. 
But if afterwards I stop to ask whether I have done what I 
ought, I shall almost certainly say 'Yes 5 ; and if for any reason 
I ask myself, before doing the act, whether I ought to do it, I 
shall give the same answer. Now it is clear that it is in Virtue 
of my thinking the act to have some other character that I think 
I ought to do it. Rightness is always a resultant attribute, an 
attribute that an act has because it has another attribute. It is 
not an attribute that its subject is just directly perceived in 
experience to have, as I perceive a particular extended jpatch to 
be yellow, or a particular noise to be loud. No doubt there are 
causes which cause this patch to be yellow, or that noise to be 
loud; but I can perceive the one to be yellow, or the other to be 
loud, without knowing anything of the causes that account for 
this. I see the attributes in question to attach to the subjects 
merely as these subjects, not as subjects of such and such a 
character. On the other hand, it is only by knowing or thinking 
my act to have a particular character, out of the many that it in 
fact has, that I know or think it to be right. It is, among other 
things, the directing of a physical body in a certain direction, 
but I never dream that it is right in consequence of .that. I 
think that it is right because it is the relieving of a human being 
from distress. Now it seems at first sight to follow from this 
that our perception of the particular duty follows from the 
perception of a general duty to relieve human beings in distress. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 169 

And, generalizing, we might feel inclined to say that our per- 
ception of particular duties is always an act of inference, in 
which the major premiss is some general moral principle. And 
no doubt my grasp of the principle that I should relieve human 
beings in distress precedes my grasp of the fact that I should 
relieve this blind man, since up to this moment I may not have 
known of the existence of this man, and certainly did not know 
of his desire to cross this particular street; while I certainly had 
at least a latent awareness of the general principle, an awareness 
which the occurrence of any instance falling under the principle 
might call into activity just as I have a latent knowledge of 
the laws of arithmetic or of English grammar before I proceed 
to make up my accounts or to write a letter. 

Yet it will not do to make our perception of particular duties 
essentially inference from general principles. For it may, I 
suppose,' be taken for granted that man was a practical being 
before he became a theoretical one, and that in particular he 
answered somehow the question how he ought to behave in 
particular circumstances, before he engaged in general specu- 
lation on the principles of duty. No doubt there was an earlier 
stage still, when men in fact did right acts without ever asking 
whether they were right, when, for instance, they helped one 
another in distress without thinking of any duty to do so. We 
see disinterested help being given by men to one another every 
day, without any thought of duty. Aristotle puts the point 
simply: 

'Parent seems by nature to feel friendship for offspring and offspring 
for parent, not only among men but among birds and among most 
animals; it is felt mutually by members of the same race, and 
especially by men. . . . We may see even in our travels how near and 
dear every man is to every other/ 1 

Butler pufe the matter more eloquently: 

'There is such a natural principle of attraction in man towards man, 
that having trod the same tract of land, having breathed in the same 

1 Eth. Nic. 1155 a 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

climate, barely having been born in the same artificial district or 
division, becomes the occasion of contracting acquaintances and 
familiarities many years after: for any thing may serve the purpose. 
Thus relations merely nominal are sought and invented, not by 
governors, but by the lowest of the people; which are found suffi- 
cient to hold mankind together in little fraternities and copartner- 
ships: weak ties indeed, and what may afford fund enough for ridi- 
cule, if they are absurdly considered as the real principles of that 
union: but they are in truth merely the occasions, as any thing may 
be of any thing, upon which our nature carries us on according to 
its own previous bent and bias; which occasions therefore would be 
nothing at all, were there not this prior disposition and bias of 
nature.' 1 

Aristotle's reference is perhaps the more interesting, in two 
respects. In the first place, it takes the practice of disinterested 
aid further back in time, by asserting its existence not merely 
among men, but among animals. He opens up the vista of the 
development of disinterested action, as it exists in man, from 
the instinctive co-operation of the members of an animal com- 
munity. And secondly, he points to what is much the most 
striking and universal example of disinterested action, the 
operation of parental love, from which perhaps all disinterested 
action may be supposed to have developed. 

In such action, in its earliest form, there was no thought of 
duty. We must suppose that when a certain degree of mental 
maturity had been reached, and a certain amount of attention 
had been, for whatever reason, focused on acts which had 
hitherto been done without any thought of their tightness, 
they came to be recognized, first rather vaguely as suitable to 
the situation, and then, with more urgency, as called for by the 
situation. Thus first, as belonging to particular acts in virtue 
of a particular character they possessed, was tightness recog- 
nized. Their rightness was not deduced from any general 
principle; rather the general principle was later recognized by 
intuitive induction as being implied in the judgements already 
passed on particular acts. 

1 Sermon I (Gladstone's ed.), 38-9. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 171 

The question may, however, be asked: 'Once the general 
principles have been reached, are particular acts recognized as 
right by deduction from general principles, or by direct reflec- 
tion on the acts as particular acts having a certain character?' 
Do we, without seeing directly that the particular act is right, 
read off its tightness from the general principle, or do we 
directly see its lightness ? Either would be a possible account 
of what happens. But when I reflect on my own attitude 
towards particular acts, I seem to find that it is not by deduc- 
tion but by direct insight that I see them to be right, or wrong. 
I never seem to be in the position of not seeing directly the 
rightness of a particular act of kindness, for instance, and of 
having to read this off from a general principle 'all acts of 
kindness are right, and therefore this must be, though I cannot 
see its rightness directly". 

It appears to me that we apprehend individual facts by de- 
duction from general principles in two kinds of situation, and 
in nojnore. (i) We may have no real insight that the attribute A 
implies the presence of the attributed. But we may have accepted 
on what we believe to be good grounds the belief that A always 
implies B^ and we then may say to ourselves, 'This is an instance 
of A) and therefore it must be an instance of B; I cannot see it 
for myself to be so, but I think it must be, because of a general 
principle which I have for good reason accepted'. Or (2) the 
general principle may be one that is not self-evident, but known 
as the consequence of a proof; and we may remember the prin- 
ciple while we have forgotten the proof. There again, we shall 
not see with self-evidence that the particular A is also a y but 
we shall read this conclusion off from the remembered general 
principle 'all A is B\ 

Both these situations actually occur in morals, (i) In most 
people Vlives there is a stage at which they accept some moral 
principle on authority before they have really come to recog- 
nize its truth for themselves; and in such a case the rightness or 
wrongness of the particular act is not apprehended on its own 
merits but read off from the general principle. The suggestion 



i 7 2 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

is indeed sometimes made that we never pass beyond this stage 
of acceptance of moral principles on authority to a fresh original 
recognition of them. But the difficulty at once arises, that the 
reference to authority either lands us in an infinite regress, or 
leads back to some one who recognized the principle for him- 
self. A may believe it because B said it was true, and B because 
C said it was true, but sooner or later we come to some one who 
believed it on its merits. Further, I think we can by careful 
introspection distinguish the acceptance of a moral principle 
on authority from its acceptance on its own merits, as we can 
distinguish the stage at which we accepted mathematical prin- 
ciples on our teacher's authority from that at which we came 
to recognize their truth for ourselves. It is probably the case 
that many people all through their lives remain in the condition 
of accepting most of their moral principles on authority, but 
we can hardly fail to recognize in the best and most enlightened 
of men an absolutely original and direct insight into moral 
principles, and in many others the power of seeing for them- 
selves the truth of moral principles when these are pointed out 
to them. There is really no more reason to doubt this than to 
doubt that there are people who can grasp mathematical prin- 
ciples and proofs for themselves. 

(2) The other situation in which we read off the rightness of 
particular acts from some general principle also arises. The 
general principle may have been accepted not on authority but 
on its merits, but it may have involved for its recognition a 
fairly elaborate consideration of the probable consequences of 
a certain type of act; this would be true of such a principle 
as the principle that indiscriminate charity is wrong. In 
such a case the rightness or wrongness of an individual act 
falling under such a description is by no means self-evident. It 
would involve for its recognition a tracing out of the probable 
consequences, which we in fact do not perform; but we re- 
member the general principle, while we have forgotten, or do 
not take the time to recollect, the arguments for it; and so we 
read off the rightness or wrongness of the particular act from it. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 173 

Our insight into the basic principles of morality is not of 
this order. When we consider a particular act as a lie, or as the 
breaking of a promise, or as a gratuitous infliction of pain, we 
do not need to, and do not, fall back on a remembered general 
principle; we see the individual act to be by its very nature 
wrong. 

So far I have considered the type of case in which the 
thought of a conflict of duties does not occur to us, but we 
regard an act straight off as right or wrong in view of some 
obvious character that it has. It must be admitted that in a 
great part of our lives we think and act so. When we are asked 
a question, we do not as a rule doubt whether it is our duty to 
give a true answer. When we have made a promise, we do not 
as a rule doubt whether we ought to keep it. When we see an 
opportunity of relieving pain or distress without, so far as we 
can see, 'producing any bad ulterior results, we do not doubt 
whether we ought to do so. Yet in fact all these acts of ours 
will produce further consequences, and the probability is that 
any of them will produce some bad consequences. It may be 
asked whether we are justified in habitually ignoring this possi- 
bility. We cannot take Kant's line, that of holding that the act 
is so right in virtue of being a telling of the truth or a keeping 
of a promise that no further consequences it has can possibly 
make it wrong. For apart from the paradoxical consequences 
that this simple faith leads to, it is clear that the problem of 
conflict of duties breaks out even among the duties of perfect 
obligation, which Kant treats as absolute, and even within a 
single one of these dudes. I may, for instance, be unable to 
keep one promise without breaking another. 

Sometimes our simplification of the moral problem by view- 
ing an act only under one category is plainly unjustified. A 
very litttareflection would reveal probable consequences which 
make the act which we take to be right plainly wrong. Where 
the simplification is justified, it is justified by such considera- 
tions as these: An action which presents itself prima facie as 
right in virtue of some character it possesses say, that of being 



174 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

the keeping of a promise or the relieving of another's pain 
starts with reasons in its favour which go beyond what is ex- 
pressed in describing it as the keeping of a promise or the 
relieving of another's pain. When we keep a promise we do 
more than keep faith with another person; we usually do 
something to strengthen the whole system of mutual confi- 
dence on which society is built up. When we break a promise, 
we do something to weaken this. So, too, when we tell the 
truth or tell a lie which are in fact particular instances of 
keeping or breaking faith with another person. 1 Again, if the 
immediate and most striking effect of an action is to relieve the 
pain or improve the character of another person, the argument 
for doing the act is not exhausted by that; for we know that 
happiness tends to radiate outwards from any one who is made 
happy, and goodness to radiate outwards from any one who 
is helped towards goodness, while pain and badness also tend 
to spread and radiate from one person to another. Thus an act 
which presents itself most obviously as conforming to one of 
the basic principles of morals starts with strong arguments in 
its favour; and we usually and justifiably suppose that unless 
some probable bad consequence reveals itself on a fairly brief 
inspection, the bad consequences are not sufficiently probable, 
or if sufficiently probable are not sufficiently weighty, to upset 
the strong prima facie argument in its favour. 

Not only is it often justifiable to accept the fact that an act 
falls under one of the basic principles of morality, as sufficient 
reason for regarding it as right (or wrong) without further 
consideration. It is often justifiable to accept in the same way 
the fact that it falls under one of the media axiomata of morality. 
For mankind has for more generations than we can tell been 
exploring the consequences of certain types of acts and drawing 
conclusions accordingly about the lightness or wroijgness of 
types of acts, and the media axiomata are the crystallized pro- 
duct of the experience and reflection of many generations. 
Suppose there is a medium axioma that actions of type A are 

1 Cf. pp. 112-13. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 175 

wrong. Then any one who lightly does an act of this type, 
because he thinks some particular good result is likely to come 
of it and does not foresee equivalent bad results as likely to 
come of it, is in effect setting up his own very narrow experience 
against the experience of countless generations. He is in prin- 
ciple committing the same error as a child does who sets up his 
own very limited experience and immature judgement against 
the experience and judgement of older people. In the last resort 
we must use our own judgement as to what is right and what is 
wrong; but one of the factors of the situation which should 
very seriously affect our judgement is the fact that the orbis 
terrarum, although for reasons which may not be entirely clear 
to us, judges thus or thus about the type of act we propose to do. 
It often happens, however, that no course of action presents 
itself as obviously called for by any basic moral principle or 
even by any medium aodoma, or that incompatible actions 
present themselves as so called for. In such a case there is no 
escaping from the task of thinking out what it is that we ought 
to do'. This task is one of greater or of less difficulty 
according to whether, when we come to reflect, some principle 
of special obligation, such as that of fulfilment of promise, is 
or is not seen to be involved. The latter is the less difficult 
case, and with it I will begin. Here the only principle of duty 
that we see to be applicable is that which bids us set ourselves 
to produce the greatest good. Our problem, then, is a twofold 
one: (a) to forecast the consequences of alternative actions, and 
() to estimate the comparative goodness of these consequences. 
In considering (a) a very strange fact at once presents itself. 
Generally speaking, no wish to produce a certain remote result 
leads to action which is effective in producing the result unless 
it is accompanied by knowledge of or opinion about some 
means which will effect the result. We do not need to know 
or have opinions about all the causal links that intervene be- 
tween the means we set ourselves to produce and the final 
result we wish to produce. When I press the accelerator of my 
car, I produce the result that my car accelerates, though I may 



i 7 6 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

know nothing of the elaborate mechanism that produces this 
result. I may merely have discovered empirically that pressing 
the accelerator produces this result, or have learned from 
authority that it will. But at least, to make the car accelerate, 
it is not enough to wish or even to try to make it do so; I must 
set myself to press the accelerator. But at the very beginning of 
the causative process starting with an act of will quite a different 
state of affairs presents itself. If the teachings of physiology 
are correct, movements of members of the body, such as arms, 
or legs, or tongue, depend on movements of the controlling 
muscles; these depend on the stimulation of nerves passing 
from the brain to the muscle, and this in turn on some altera- 
tion in the brain. Thus, if the general order which I have stated 
held good in this case, we could effect a movement in a member 
only by setting ourselves to effect a certain change in the brain 
which we know or think will effect a certain change in the 
member we wish to move. But the fact is that, while any 
one who studies physiology may come to know this causal 
sequence, as ordinary moral agents we know nothing of it. If 
we have enough of a smattering of physiology to know in 
general that such a sequence exists, we certainly have not the 
remotest idea what sort of change in the brain will produce 
the wished for movement of the member. Thus we have some- 
thing happening within the body that never happens outside the 
body, viz. that we can at will produce a certain result without 
having any knowledge or even opinion about any of the changes 
which are necessary preliminaries to this result. So far as our 
own awareness goes, we skip as it were the intermediate stages, 
and it seems to ourselves as if the mental effort to move the 
limb directly produced the movement. 

I mention the problem, not because I have any light to throw 
on its solution, nor because I think it ethically important, but 
because it is interesting in itself and takes us deep into the 
whole problem of the relation of mind and body. 

Whatever be the explanation, we start, then, not indeed with 
the knowledge that the mental effort to move a certain limb will 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 177 

in fact move it (for some lesion in brain or nerve or muscle 
may prevent this), but with what for practical purposes is 
generally as good as knowledge. And further, within certain 
limits of accuracy we may be said to 'know' the kind of move- 
ment that our effort will produce, that by trying to move an 
arm forward we shall in fact move it forward and not back- 
ward. As regards the further effects of an act of will, on bodies 
and on minds, we depend on analogical reasoning. We have 
a good deal, if not of knowledge, at least of highly probable 
opinion, as to the present condition of many of the bodies 
in our immediate vicinity and of the minds connected with 
them. The condition of the things in my environment and 
the final intra-corporeal effect of my act of will are the joint 
causes which will determine the first extra-corporeal effect; and 
using such probable opinion as we have of the condition of the 
things hi our environment, and our experience of what effects 
similar intra-corporeal changes have had on bodies and minds 
similarly conditioned in the past (and we have amassed a good 
deal of such experience before we begin to think morally), we 
can form fairly probable opinions as to the first extra-corporeal 
effects of our act of will. 

Our knowledge of its later effects is very much less, or 
rather our opinions about them are much less likely to be right. 
We can see that in this way. Let us first suppose, merely for 
the sake of argument, that there is no other agency at work 
except oneself causing changes in the world, or at least in one's 
environment. Then we may suppose that an action of ours will 
affect some of the things (minds and bodies) in our environ- 
ment, while leaving others approximately unchanged. Let us 
denote things (substances) by capital letters and their successive 
states by attached numbers. Then by our action a set of things 
A v B C^D^ E F l will be so changed as to become a set of 
things A 2 2 C% D E l F v Then by the interaction of these 
things a further state of things will be produced, in which again 
some of the things will have been changed by their interaction, 
while others will be approximately unchanged. This state we 

4584 N 



i 7 8 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

may denote by A^ B^ C 2 Z> 2 E l F v Now we can perhaps anti- 
cipate with reasonable accuracy that the immediate result of 
our action will be to change A B C D EI F into A^ B% C 2 
D l E F^ but we could foresee that its later result would be to 
produce the condition of affairs A^ JS 3 C 2 D 2 E l F^ only if in 
addition to anticipating the change from A l B l ^ D E l F l to 
A% j&% C 2 DI EI F ly we could foresee the further change from 
this latter state to A^ JS 3 C 2 D% E l F v If our chance of being 
right about each change separately is one in two, for example, 
our chance of being right about the final result of both is much 
less. And it will diminish as we try to forecast effects further 
and further from us in time. 

But the position is much worse than this in fact. We have 
simplified the problem immensely by supposing ourselves to 
be the only active agency at work* In fact, there are many other 
agencies, bodies and minds, at work altering our envhonment. 
We can foresee the first change with some approach to accuracy 
because the state of things A B C D JE l F l is already in 
existence and more or less open to our observation. But we 
cannot anticipate with certainty that at time 2 the state of 
affairs will be A^ B 2 C 2 Z) x E l F ly as we could if we were the 
only agency at work and if we could rightly estimate the effect 
of our agency. By that time other agencies will or may have 
produced other changes in some or all of the substances in 
question. People, for instance, who are now alive and whom we 
may expect to be affected in some way by our action may by that 
time be dead or at a distance. Thus the difficulty of forecasting 
the future increases more rapidly than we have above suggested, 
as the future we try to forecast is a more and more distant future. 

In the attempt to forecast the effects of our action, we are 
not limited entirely to reasoning by analogy from experience. 
To a very limited extent perhaps even bodily change may be 
anticipated a priori; it seems probable that a few simple laws 
of dynamics are known a priori to be true. But in forecasting 
effects on minds we can use a priori reasoning much more. We 
can anticipate, even apart from experience, that the announce- 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 179 

ment of a forthcoming pleasure will itself produce pleasure, 
and the announcement of a future pain, pain, that the news of 
some one's success will cause pain to his enemies, that that 
which is enjoyed while it is possessed will be to some extent 
missed when it is taken away. We have, I think, far more 
a priori insight into mental causation than into physical But 
if many of our major premisses are won by insight and not 
by experience, tlie minor premisses which we must fit on to 
these if we are to draw conclusions about the future must be 
borrowed from experience. It is only by the help of experi- 
ence that we can know that A is H's friend or that C is D's 
enemy, that has enjoyed experience F in the past and will 
therefore be glad to be promised the future enjoyment of it, or 
that G has found experience H painful and will be sorry to hear 
that he is to have it again. All things considered, the difficulty 
of foretasting the future is so great that the slenderness of our 
insight into it is not to be wondered at. It is perhaps more 
surprising that wise men can often form such shrewd forecasts 
as thfey do. 

When we turn (fc) to estimating the goodness of the results of 

alternative actions, further difficulties confront us. These 

* 7 

would be great enough even if pleasure were the only good; 
for not only is it extremely difficult to compare the intensity, 
and therefore the pleasure- value, of pleasures of very different 
quality, such as those of pushpin and poetry, to take Bentham's 
instances; it is extremely difficult to compare with accuracy the 
pleasure-value even of similar experiences. Yet it seems that 
in comparing somewhat similar pleasures we often have no 
difficulty in recognizing that one is more intense than another. 
And if we pass from a pair of similar pleasures to a pair of less 
similar pleasures, and so on, there does not seem to be in prin- 
ciple any point at which we should be justified in drawing the 
line and saying 'up to this point comparison is possible; here it 
becomes impossible". Thus in principle it seems to me that all 
pleasures fall on one scale in respect of intensity and are com- 
parable in respect of it, though when the pleasures are very 



ito THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

different in character it is only a very considerable difference in 
intensity that one can detect. 

If we recognize, as I think we should, other goods than 
pleasure virtuous emotion and action, and the exercise of in- 
telligence the difficulty of comparison becomes much greater. 

Two views seem to be here possible. It may be held that all 
these things, including pleasures, are good in the same sense of 
'good'. Then the position will be that, just as it is easier to 
compare two similar pleasures in respect of intensity (and 
therefore of goodness) than two dissimilar ones, and yet dissi- 
milar pleasures must be in principle comparable, so it is easier 
to compare two similar activities (e.g. two virtuous actions) in 
respect of goodness than to compare a virtuous action with an 
exercise of intelligence or with a pleasure, and yet in principle 
all three are comparable. If, on the other hand, as I think to be 
the case, good actions are good in a different sense of 'good' 
from that in which any pleasures as such are so, then good 
actions will not be comparable in respect of goodness with 
pleasures as such. Then, when we try to decide whethei we 
ought to set ourselves to produce some good activity or some 
pleasure, the two things to be produced will not fall on one 
scale of goodness, but the two prima facie duties will still fall 
on one scale of obligatoriness and will be comparable thereon. 

The choice between these two views must be deferred to the 
chapter in which the meanings of 'good' will be discussed. 1 
Meantime, however, we may discuss the position with regard 
to any good things which are good in the same sense of 'good', 
as, for instance, two virtuous actions may be properly held to be. 

It has been suggested 2 that there are not amounts, but only 
degrees, of goodness, and that in consequence all that we are 
entitled to assign to different goods is not cardinal numbers, 
implying that each good contains a certain number of units of 
goodness, but only ordinal numbers, implying that the two 
goods occupy different places on a scale of goodness, or are 
unequally far removed from the zero-point of indifference. 

1 Ch. ii. * By Professor H. H. Price, in AfrW, xl (1931), 353. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 181 

Now such a state of affairs would be all that is needed if we had, 
in choosing which of two actions we should do, to compare a 
single good which will be produced by one with a single good 
which will be produced by the other. But this is not usually 
the case. Far more often we have to recognize that one or both 
of the two actions will affect for good or evil more than one 
person; and in such a case we are bound to attempt some sum- 
mation of the goods and evils to be effected by each action. 
Let us for simplicity's sake suppose that only good effects are 
anticipated, and that only three goods are involved, whose 
order on the scale of goods is A^ B^ C (A being the nearest to 
zero), and that we have to choose between two actions, one of 
which will produce one, and the other the other two, of these 
goods. Then if (as the theory in question supposes) we knew 
only the order, but had no notion of the amount of goodness 
in any* of the three goods, we should know that it was prefer- 
able to produce A-\-C rather than J?, and +C rather than A^ 
but we should have no notion whether it was better to produce 
A^B rather than C. Similarly, if four goods were involved 
whose order on the scale of goods is A^ B, C, D (A being the 
nearest tQ zero), and if at least one of the two actions will pro- 
duce at least two of the goods, then we could (if goods had 
only ordinal and not cardinal numbers answering to them) in 
most of the cases 1 decide which action would produce more 

1 Viz. (ignoring cases in which the effects of the two actions include an identical 
good, which may be cancelled out) when the effects of the two actions are to be as 

follows: 

First action Second action 

A B+C+D 

A B+C 

A B+D 

A C+D 

B A+C+D 

B A+C 

B A+D 

B C+D 

C A+B+D 

C A+D 

C B+D 

A+B C+D 

A+C B+D 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

good, but we should be quite unable to deal with the cases in 
which the effects of the two actions were to be as follows: 

First action Second action 

C A+B 

D A+B+C 

D A+B 

D A+C 

D B+C 

A+D B+C 

Now, in practice we are not conscious of this particular 
limitation. It certainly sometimes happens that when we think 
one action will produce one single good and the other a com- 
bination of lesser goods, we judge without hesitation, in some 
cases that the action which produces the single great good is 
rather to be done than the other, and in other cases that the 
other is rather to be done than it. I do not suggest that this is 
always so; it is perfectly clear that very often we should in such 
a case find it quite impossible to say whether the single good 
or the combination was to be preferred. But in principle, if we 
ever are justified in thinking that a certain combination of 
lesser goods is more worth (or that it is less worth) producing 
than a single greater good, we must know more about the goods 
than that they fall in a certain order on the scale of goods. 

Nor will it be enough to know the size of the intervals that 
separate the goods. Suppose we know that B A+M and 
that C B+N. Then we know that A+B = 2A+M, and 
that C A+M+N; but we should not know whether A is 
greater or less than -A^. We should need to be able to compare 
the intervals which separate the goods from one another with 
that which separates the smallest of them from zero. And this 
seems to me indistinguishable from recognizing each of the 
goods as containing a certain number of times a certain unit of 
goodness, i.e. from assigning to them cardinal as well as 
ordinal numbers. 

If, then, we are ever able to say with confidence, comparing 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 183 

one greater good with the sum of a number of smaller ones, 
that it is more (or that it is less) worth producing than they, it 
is implied that each of the goods contains a definite number of 
times some unit of good. There is, of course, no natural unit of 
good. But we can arbitrarily take some small good and say 
that the goods we are comparing are twice, five times, &c., as 
good as it. Or, without having any particular unit of good in 
mind, we can say 'whatever unit of good be taken, B would be 
worth twice as many of it as A, C five times as many as A' y and 
so on. 

Now in fact we can never speak with as great precision as 
that. The position is rather this: the most that we can say with 
confidence is that B is worth not less than m times and not 
more than n time? as much as A, and so on. It is clear that if we 
have this type of knowledge, then we shall sometimes be able 
and sometimes be unable to say of good C (for instance) that it 
is worth more (or less) than A+B. Suppose, for instance, 

that, taking some good G as unit, we can say 



'A not less than 2G nor more than 3(7 

B = not less than $G nor more than ^G 

C not less than G nor more than 



we shall not be able to say whether C is greater or less than 
A+B. But if we can say C = not less than 8G,' we shall know 
that in any case it is worth more than A+B. 

This is, I believe, the kind of position in which we actually 
find ourselves. We should be justified, I think, in supposing 
that any good contains a definite amount of goodness, but 
since we cannot estimate this exactly but only as falling within 
certain limits, our knowledge is often not enough to enable us 
to compare one greater with two or more lesser goods. And, 
of course, the same difficulty often makes it impossible to say 
whether, of two single goods A and JB, A or B is greater or 
A and B are equal. 

The question may at this point be raised, whether such 
assessment of the goodness of the results of an action (or of the 



184 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

goodness of anything, for that matter) as we can reach is or is 
not reached by inference. The answer seems to be that it is 
not. If it were to be reached by inference, it would have to be 
either from premisses in one of which the term 'good* already 
occurred, or from premisses in which it did not occur. Now 
the latter is logically impossible; you cannot import a term into 
your conclusion which did not occur in one or other premiss. 
The former is not logically impossible. It would be logically 
possible that all judgements about the goodness of any parti- 
cular results were deduced from premisses, of which one stated 
the goodness of a class of things and the other brought the 
individual thing under the class. But while this is logically 
possible, it seems to me, for reasons similar to those given 
before, with reference to tightness, 1 not to be true in the case 
of our appreciation of goodness. If this view be correct, the 
apprehension of the degree of goodness of particular goods is 
logically immediate. But, of course, it does not follow that it is 
psychologically immediate. Goodness is a resultant attribute; 
it belongs to anything to which it does belong, because of the 
nature of the thing in some respect or other because, for 
instance, it is a brave and not a cowardly act. And .while even 
the vaguest apprehension of the goodness or badness of any- 
thing depends on some previous insight into the nature of the 
thing, an apprehension of the degree of its goodness will depend 
on close study of its nature, upon which the apprehension of 
the degree of its goodness supervenes, not as a logical conclu- 
sion but as a psychological result. 

The psychological preliminaries to the judgement on the 
goodness of the results of an act will, of course, differ according 
to whether we are judging of an act already done, or of one 
not yet done. In the former case some of the results have 
probably already taken place and will be open to observation; 
but others lie in the future and require an effort of imagination 
for their envisagement. In the latter case all the results can only 
be apprehended by an effort of imagination. In both cases the 

1 pp- 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 185 

imagination will presuppose reasoning reasoning to the 
probable consequences of an act, based upon analogies drawn 
from previous experience. Thus in no case are the psycho- 
logical preliminaries at all simple, and the more accurate our 
judgement of goodness is to be, the more careful must be our 
observation of achieved results and our imagination of results 
not yet achieved. It is hardly necessary to dwell on the diffi- 
culties of the analogical reasoning of which I have spoken 
of the danger, for instance, of supposing that because one act 
has affected in a certain way the people mainly affected by it, 
a similar act will affect similarly quite different people. 

A special complication is introduced into the judgement of 
goodness by the well-known principle of organic values, i.e. of 
values of wholes >which are not equal to the sums of the values 
of their parts. But here the broad principle which I have stated 
above ftolds good that the judgement of the goodness of the 
whole is logically immediate, but psychologically mediated by 
a study of the goodness of the parts. Take, for instance, the 
whole state of things constituted by a vicious act and the pain 
of the subsequent punishment. Here both elements, taken apart, 
are bad, b]it the whole has not a badness equal to the sum of the 
badnesses of the parts. 1 We cannot, therefore, deduce its value 
from the values (using Value 5 non-committally to cover bad- 
ness as well as goodness) of its parts. Yet it is only if we 
envisage clearly the degree of badness of the vicious act and the 
degree of badness of the pain suffered that we can arrive at 
any definite view of the value of the whole which they com- 
pose. 

It is not to be supposed that the existence of organic values 
vitiates any and every computation of the goodness of the total 
results of an act by summing the values of its individual re- 
sults. Where the different effects of an act are effects on dif- 
ferent persons, they do not, so far as I can see, coalesce into 

1 If the parts are, as I think, bad in two different senses of 'bad' (cf. pp. 271-9), 
there is, of course, no sum of their badnesses. But even if they are bad in the same 
sense, the whole has not a badness equal to the sum of the badnesses of the parts, since 
the fittingness of the punishment to the sin takes away from the badness of the whole. 



186 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

organic wholes, and it appears therefore to be safe to arrive at 
the goodness of the total results of an act by summing the good- 
nesses of the individual results though, of course, the effects 
on any one person may form an organic whole whose goodness 
cannot be assessed by the process of summation. 

One further complication remains. It will be remembered 
that in our consideration of the epistemological questions con- 
nected with the judgement of duty, we have so far considered 
only the duty of producing the maximum good. But there are 
other duties than this, the duty of fulfilling promises, the duty 
of making reparation for wrongs we have done, the duty of 
making a return for good we have received. Where such a 
special prima facie duty exists, as well as the general prima facie 
duty of producing the maximum good, our final judgement 
about our duty depends not on a comparison of goods but on 
a comparison of prima facie duties. But the same general 
principle reappears, that the final judgement is not a logical 
conclusion, but yet is something that presupposes preliminary 
mental acts, in which we study the situation in detail, till the 
morally significant features of it become clear to us. 

Epistemologically, the position about duties of special 
obligation seems to me to be this. We all recognize their 
existence, but in two very important respects our judgements 
about them differ, (i) To most plain men these present them- 
selves as duties independent of the duty of promoting the 
general good. To some philosophers they present themselves 
as merely derivative principles, flowing from the duty of pro- 
moting the general good, and ceasing to have any binding 
force whenever action according to them seems unlikely to 
promote in fact the general good. But (2) apart from this 
difference of view about the ground of the obligation to behave 
in these ways, people probably differ a good deal with regard to 
the degree of obligation which they think to attach to these 
principles of action. We may consider (a) how in this respect 
people who hold the teleological view will differ from those 
who hold the intuitionistic view. In general, the former will 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 187 

probably think that less obligatoriness attaches to the fulfilment 
of promises, for example, for they will think it is always out- 
weighed by the obligatoriness of any act which is likely to 
increase more the general good; while holders of the intuitional 
view will hold that some fulfilments of promise are more obli- 
gatory than some actions which are likely to increase more 
the general good. This is the general position; but it would be 
a mistake to expect that holders of the teleological theory will 
always take a laxer view about fulfilment of promise than holders 
of the intuitionist view. For ideologists, having to account 
somehow for the stubborn general disposition to regard fulfil- 
ment of promises as binding, are apt to explain this by referring 
to the tendency which breach of promise has to break down 
mutual confidence, and, in doing so, they are apt to exaggerate 
this tendency; so that a plain man recognizing an independent 
duty of fulfilling promises may easily think that much more 
good might be achieved by doing something else which in- 
volves breaking a promise, and that in this case the duty of 
promoting the general good outweighs the other, while a teleo- 
logist may have persuaded himself that the keeping of the 
promise wilj in fact bring more good into existence than any 
other act and that therefore the promise should be kept. 

Apart from this difference between the attitude of teleo- 
logists and that of intuitionists towards promise-keeping, 
there are () no doubt considerable differences between intui- 
tionists as to the degree of obligatoriness of promise-keeping. 
All that Intuitionism implies is the view that the duty of 
promise-keeping is independent and sui generis; it implies no 
particular view about the relative weight of this prima facie 
obligation compared with others. Within Intuitionism, we can 
have at one extreme the view of Kant that duties of perfect 
obligation always outweigh those of imperfect obligation. 
At the other end we might have people who think the duty of 
promise-keeping to be sui generis but yet to be one which very 
rarely outweighs the duty of promoting the general good. 
Thus in a particular case of conflict of duties of these two kinds, 



i88 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

different intuitionists (or different plain men) will give quite 
different answers. But this casts no doubt on the truth of the 
intuitionist view. It simply points to the fact that in this region 
our knowledge is very limited, that while we know certain 
types of act to be prima facie obligatory, we have only opinion 
about the degree of their obligatoriness. An exactly similar 
situation would reveal itself among teleologists, as soon as they 
began to face the question of the comparative goodness of 
different goods. Suppose them to agree that virtuous action, 
intelligent thought, and pleasure are goods; yet there is cer- 
tainly no agreement about the comparative worth of these 
things. That casts no doubt on their being goods, and goods 
with different degrees of objective goodness; it only shows that 
our knowledge in this field is very limited. And so it is with 
regard to our knowledge of the relative obligatoriness of 
different prirna facie duties. 

It would perhaps be appropriate here to take account of an 
objection recently made to the kind of view I have been trying 
to state. 1 

'If the most significant kind of morality is creative morality (and 
whether it is or is not can only be judged by the success of the appli- 
cation of the idea of creativeness to ethical concepts), then the ethics 
of intuitionism or deontology approaches from the wrong end. If 
we begin with the consideration of rational general rules we are 
bound to find out in time that the rules are inadequate to meet all 
cases and if we modify the theory and speak of "prima facie'' duty 
versus "duty proper" or "actual duty", we have still in the end to 
acknowledge a remainder, the surd of the individuality of the indi- 
vidual. We have to quote Aristotle again and say, "The decision 
lies with perception". Indeed the root of the matter lies with percep- 
tion, and at the best with a deeply imaginative perception linked to a 
consciousness of a larger good. This comes first, this is of prime 
importance, and what is left over, the considerable anfount of life 
that is routine, may be dealt with approximately enough by rules 
and formulae. I for one, anyhow, believe that we get a fresher view 
of morality if we look at it from this angle/ 

1 L. A. Reid, Creative Morality, 109 f. 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 189 

This objection, I think, rests on a misconception. If I have 
understood aright what Professor Reid means by creative 
morality, it is its aspect of spontaneity, of freedom from 
routine rules, that he wishes to emphasize. Now Intuitionism, 
in the form in which I hold it true, does not in any way con- 
demn the moral life to routine. Such a charge might perhaps 
be brought against Kant's form of Intuitionism, in which it is 
held that the rightness or wrongness of an individual act can 
be inferred with certainty from its falling or not falling under 
a rule capable of being universalized. My criticism of this view 
is that it unduly simplifies the moral life. It ignores the fact 
that in many situations there is more than one claim upon our 
action, that these claims often conflict, and that while we can 
see with certainty that the claims exist, it becomes a matter of 
individual and fallible judgement to say which claim is in the 
circumstances the overriding one. In many such situations, 
equally good men would form different judgements as to what 
their duty is. They cannot all be right, but it is often impossible 
to say tvhich is right; each person must judge according to his 
own individual sense of the comparative strength of various 

claims. 



The criticism which Intuitionism as I hold it makes upon 
teleological ethics is that teleological ethics, in a different way 
from Kant's, over-simplifies the moral life; that it recognizes 
only one type of claim, the claim that we shall act so as to pro- 
duce most good, while in fact there are claims arising from 
other grounds, arising from what we have already done (e.g. 
from our having made a promise, or inflicted an injury) and not 
merely from the kind of result our action will have, or may be 
expected to have. Intuitionism of this kind seems to me not to 
be hostile to creative morality in any sense in which creative 
morality is, a good thing. I suppose that there could be no 
better instance of creative morality than the case of a man who, 
going beyond the routine of the duties commonly recognized 
by those round him, becomes convinced of some new duty 
and devotes his life to the discharge of it, as for example 



190 THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 

Wilberforce did when he devoted his life to the abolition of the 
slave-trade and of slavery. Creative morality involves not the 
denial or belittlement of the claims whose existence has long 
been recognized, but the coming to recognize new ones. If 
Intuitionism meant that people are to accept as absolute all the 
claims that are commonly recognized, and never to accept new 
ones, it would indeed be adverse to creative morality. But it 
means neither of these things. The general principles which it 
regards as intuitively seen to be true are very few in number 
and very general in character. With regard to all media axio- 
mata, which are attempts to apply these general principles to 
particular types of situation, it preserves an open mind. It 
recognizes that new circumstances sometimes abrogate old 
claims and sometimes create new ones, and that we must be 
constantly alive to recognize such changes and to act on them. 

So far I have been speaking of the problem of discovering 
which of the actions open to one would be objectively right, 
would discharge in the fullest possible measure the various 
claims or prima facie duties that are involved in the situation. 
This is what we should like to know; and it is clear, in view of 
the various difficulties I have pointed out the difficulty of 
comparing the goodness of various results, the difficulty of 
balancing the duty of producing the greatest good against 
special obligations that we can never hww our duty in this 
sense, but can only reach more or less probable opinion about 
it. At the same time the difficulties are not so great as to make 
the attempt useless. We can by the use of analogical reasoning 
from experience, and of a priori reasoning, forecast with some 
confidence the nearer consequences of our acts; and in certain 
cases (as we have seen 1 ) there is some reason to suppose that of 
two acts that which has the better proximate consequences will 
also have the better remote consequences. And again in com- 
paring goods, and in comparing prima facie duties, while we 
are often in doubt which is the greater good or the more 

1 PP- '73-5- 



THE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS RIGHT 191 

stringent obligation, in other cases, where the one good is much 
the greater or the one obligation much the more stringent, we 
seem to be able to grasp these facts with certainty. The fact 
that in many individual cases the people whose judgement we 
have learned most to respect in ethical matters will pronounce 
the same judgement on acts is some guarantee that objectivity 
has been attained. 

We have, however, in an earlier chapter 1 come to see that 
besides the objective duty of which we have been speaking, 
there is a subjective duty; there is an act which we think likely 
to be the maximum fulfilment of objective duty. In our 
attempt to discover objective duty, whether it succeeds or 
fails, we can at least discover our subjective duty; for we can 
come to know what it is that we think. At the same rime, there 
are cases in which we do not even think any one act to be likely 
to be the completest fulfilment of our prima facie duties in 
which we are quite doubtful as between two or more acts. But 
even so we are not completely ignorant; for we at least think 
that the right act is one of a limited number of acts. In such 
a case it is our subjective duty, and we know that it is, to do one 
or other of the acts, of which we think one or other to be our 
objective duty. 



IX 
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

TT PROPOSE next to attempt some discussion of the psycho- 
JL logy of moral action, i.e. of any action to which either the 
epithet good or bad, or the epithet right or wrong, is applicable. 
For a reason which will appear later, 1 1 postpone for the present 
actions done from a sense of duty. It will, I think, be admitted 
that, with the possible exception of action from a sense of duty, 
all moral action is motivated by the desire of an end. Every 
student is familiar with Aristotle's account of action as either 
being, or (as I think he would rather have said) being immedi- 
ately preceded by, choice of certain means, which by delibera- 
tion have come to be thought of as the means most likely to 
achieve a pre-desired end; 2 and his account is pretty generally 
accepted. Nevertheless it needs reconsideration. To begin 
with, it is evident that not every desire of an end sets up a pro- 
cess of deliberation which in turn leads to the choice of means 
to that end. We have many idle desires which arise in us, and 
may remain as part of the colouring of our mental life, but 
never lead to deliberation, still less to action. There are 
careers, for instance, which one is attracted by, but nothing 
more; one realizes the attractions, in certain respects, of being 
Prime Minister or Lord Chancellor, or an England cricketer or a 
champion golfer, but of all those who are attracted, momentarily 
or even permanently, by such objects, few do anything about 
it, even to the extent of deliberating how they could be 
attained. It would seem that, to be effective as a determinant 
of deliberate action, an end must not merely be desired, but be 
chosen. 

The difference between deliberate and impulsive action 
seems to be this, that impulsive action follows directly upon a 
desire, or upon the strongest of two or more conflicting desires, 

1 p. 205. a Eth. NIC. mi b 4-1113 a 14, 1139333^ 13. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 193 

whereas in the case of deliberate action a choice intervenes 
between desire and action. This choice or decision is itself a 
conation, an activity not of intellect but of will; but it is often 
preceded by a decision in another sense, an intellectual activity 
of judging that something is the case. With regard to this 
intellectual activity two questions arise: (i) whether it is a 
necessary preliminary to choice, and (2) what it is that is 
judged to be the case. With regard to the first question, I can 
neither see a priori that such an intellectual decision is necessary, 
nor be sure by introspection that it always happens. It seems 
to me possible that there is a semi-impulsive form of action, 
which is preceded by a choice but not by an intellectual de- 
cision. With regard to the second question, two possibilities 
suggest themselves (a) that we judge one desire to be the 
strongest, and () that we judge one end to be the most attrac- 
tive. So far as I can make out by introspection, the latter is the 
judgement that we actually form. Our attention seems to be 
directed not to the comparative strength of our desires, but to 
the nature of their objects. It may be because the desire for A is 
stronger than the desire for B that we judge A to be more 
attractive than J?, but what we actually judge seems to be that 
A is the more attractive. 

It seems to me further that the attractiveness which we 
ascribe to ends may be ascribed to them on different grounds. 
One imagined state of affairs may be thought attractive because 
it will be a state of pleasure for ourselves; another because it 
will be a state of pleasure for some one else in whom we are 
interested; another because it will be a state that we think good 
in itself. There seems to be no foundation in fact for the view 
that what attracts us, and what is judged to be attractive, must 
be an imagined state of oneself, still less for the view that it 
must be a state of oneself qua pleasant. 

If the one decision is an intellectual and the other a conative 
act, we must not for a moment suppose that there are two 
entities within us, an intelligence and a will, functioning side 
by side and independently. We should not choose or decide on 

4584 



i 9 4 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

the end if we had not made previous judgements about its 
nature. We should not decide that it is more worth pursuing 
than any alternative if we did not start with certain conative 
tendencies, a tendency in one man, for instance, to a life of 
effort and in another to a life of ease, in one man to selfish and 
in another to unselfish activity. Intelligence and will act and 
react on one another, or rather, since even to say this is to reify 
them too much, the whole man, in virtue of certain judgements 
which he has made and certain desiderative tendencies which 
he has, both judges that a certain end is the most worth pur- 
suing, and decides to pursue it. 

We have already seen that to desire is not to choose; we 
must further realize that to desire an end more than its alter- 
natives is not to choose it. A man may in fact be desiring an 
end more than any alternative, but he cannot be said to choose 
it until he performs a perfectly specific new kind of mental act, 
which can by introspection be distinguished from any sort of 
desire. 

This act may equally well be called an act of decision. 
Any decision is in fact, even if the word 'decision' does not 
bring out this aspect of it as distinctly as the word 'choice', 
a choice of one thing in preference to all others. The others 
may be clearly conceived, or they may be very vaguely con- 
ceived. In either case preferential choice of a rather than I or 
c, or of a rather than anything else is involved. 

It is clear that the mere desire of an end does not necessarily 
set in train a process of deliberation that leads up to action. Yet 
it would be wrong to say that an end must be chosen before the 
process of deliberation on means can be begun. To set up such 
a process, a strong attraction towards an end, which yet does 
not lead immediately to the choice of the end against all alterna- 
tives, is enough. Any fairly strong attraction, provided there 
is not some counter-attraction which is both stronger and 
recognized to be incompatible with it, may set up two pro- 
cesses of thought (i) a process of thinking out more in detail 
what the end in question involves as part of its essence or of its 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 195 

necessary or probable consequences, and (2) a process of think- 
ing out the steps necessary for its attainment. If one feels 
attracted by the idea of being Prime Minister, one naturally 
sets oneself to think on the one hand of the attractive and the 
unattractive features of the position itself, the enormous power 
and prestige balanced by the incessant toil and the crushing 
responsibility, and on the other hand of the long, toilsome, and 
often tedious course of action necessary for the attainment of 
the position. And either of these trains of thought may lead to 
the desired end not becoming a chosen end; we say 'that object 
is attractive when considered abstractly but not when con- 
sidered in detail*, or again 'it is highly attractive in itself but 
it + the steps necessary for the attaining of it form a whole 
which is unattractive, or less attractive than some more modest 
career*. Let us suppose, however, that the desired end survives 
these objections, and becomes our chosen end. Then we con- 
tinue no further the one train of thought, the thought about the 
detailed nature and consequences of the end. We know that 
by further reflection we could learn more about them, but 
we think this unnecessary; we think we know enough about 
them to know that this end is more worth pursuing than 
any alternative though of course features of the end that 
come to our notice may later make us change our minds. For 
the present we have made a definite choice of the end as 
our end. 

So far, it looks as if we should have to give up Aristotle's 
doctrine, that choice is not of ends but only of means. It looks, 
so far, as if we ought to recognize the existence of choice of 
an end (to be followed usually by another choice, which is the 
choice of certain means to it). But we must consider more 
closely what it is that we choose. To the word 'choose* we 
may append as object either a noun, or an infinitive preceded by 
'to'; and we see more clearly what it is that we choose if we 
concentrate on the latter form. That this is justified becomes 
obvious if we reflect that we have admitted choice to be iden- 
tical with decision; for with 'decide' we can only use the 'to' 



196 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

form or what is in principle identical with it, the form 'to 
decide on 5 a certain course of action. 

What then is it that we choose or decide to do ? It is not to 
desire an end. That we must already be doing, for choice to 
take place. Not, again, to go on desiring an end which we 
desire already. Not, again, to have or possess a certain end, 
since that depends on circumstances beyond our control. 
What we choose or decide is to seek a certain end, i.e. to take 
whatever steps are expedient to the attaining of the end. To 
choose is to choose to take means to an end. And the distinc- 
tion between this choice and the choice which follows is not 
that the one is a choice of end and the other a choice of means, 
but that the one is a choice to take whatever means are expedient 
to the attainment of an end, and the other is a choice to take 
certain means which we have come to think of as the means 
expedient to the end. It is only if we think of choice as a certain 
kind of desire that we shall feel tempted to relate the first choice 
to the end rather than to the means. But choice is by intro- 
spection seen to be a completely different activity from desire 
of any kind. 

A certain amount of deliberation as to particular means has 
probably taken place before the choice 'to take the means to 
a certain end'. For a wise man, at any rate, will not choose so 
unless he has satisfied himself that the unpleasantness or the 
unworthiness of the means does not make the end an end not 
worth pursuing at the price. But it is enough at this stage to 
have assured oneself that there are means such that the end is 
worth aiming at by the use of them. The agent may have 
assured himself of so much, without having assured himself 
that he has thought of the best means to the end. Thus after the 
first choice, the next step is a further deliberation, in which the 
problem he is trying to solve is not, as before, what end he is 
to take the means to, but what means he is to take to the end he 
has already decided to pursue. 

Aristotle, perhaps only for purposes of exposition, describes 
this process very simply. He speaks as if we worked, in thought, 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 197 

steadily back from the distant end to be achieved to the means 
to be taken here and now, step by step, never retracing our 
steps. What he suggests is this: that we see that the means on 
which the end A would immediately follow is B\ that the 
means on which B would immediately follow is C; and so on 
till we see that means yean be achieved by means Z, which is 
immediately in our power. Really the process is much more 
complex. There may be several means which would directly 
produce end A. If we proceeded in the purely linear fashion, 
we should decide upon one of these means, presumably in 
virtue of two considerations which of them would most 
probably secure end A y and which of them, if it secured it at all, 
would secure it in the fullest measure. Means B l would be 
preferred to means .Z? 2 , 2? 3 , &c., as the result of a joint considera- 
tion of these two points. If, for instance, the probability of JB^s 
securing*^ were |- and that of 2? 2 's securing A were , but 2 if 
it secured A at all would secure it in a certain degree </, while 
2?! if it secured A would secure it in a certain degree f , then the 
choiceworthiness of B would be and that of 2? 2 f . If we 
thought this, we should probably forthwith decide on B 2 as the 
means to A, to be adopted in preference to JS l9 and our sole con- 
cern henceforth would be with the means to be adopted as 
means to 2? 2 . 

These two considerations do undoubtedly come into our 
choice of means. But other considerations come in to compli- 
cate the choice, and to prevent us from proceeding in the purely 
linear way, from distant end to distant means, to less distant 
means ... to immediate means. In the first place, though B 2 
is preferable to all its alternatives in respect of the two con- 
siderations named above, there may be features about 2? 2 , e.g. 
its painfulness to us, or its painfulness to other people, which 
may make us decide that means B l or 2? 3 is rather to be chosen, 
even if it be a less effective means to A. Secondly, even if 2? 2 
survived this consideration, a wise man would not choose JS 2 
unless he had satisfied himself that B% can really be reached by 
means which it is in his power to effect here and now. Thus he 



i 9 8 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

must perform the whole process of deliberation in a tentative 
way, right down to the means to be adopted here and now, 
before he can properly decide on any of the distant means. 
And finally, even if he has satisfied himself that he could bring 
B 2 into being, he will not decide on JS 2 unless he has assured 
himself that there are means by which it could be brought into 
being, which are not in themselves so repugnant as to make it 
better to adopt means to B l or 3 . Thus, instead of proceeding 
in linear fashion from distant to near means, we have to run 
over the whole series (and indeed many times), judging of 
means at each stage (i) in view of the likelihood of their lead- 
ing to A^ (2) in view of the degree of A which they will lead to, 
if they lead to it at all, (3) in view of their own attractiveness, 
(4) in view of the probability of their realization, and (5) in 
view of the attractiveness of the means by which they can be 
realized. And what we choose in the end is a line of action 
which in view of all these considerations applied to each of its 
stages is judged to be the best. 

On this choice there supervenes a mental activity of quite a 
different type the activity of setting oneself to bring about 
the change which is the chosen immediate means to. the attain- 
ment of the chosen end. The distinctness of the two activities 
is often obscured by the fact that the second follows immedi- 
ately on the first. When little time elapses between the arising 
of the situation and the time at which action must be taken if it 
is to be taken effectively, exertion follows on choice so rapidly 
that the difference may escape a hasty introspection. And the 
difference is also obscured by the fact that we tend to speak of 
both kinds of activity under the colourless name 'acts of will'. 
Let us drop the colourless and indefinite phrase and ask our- 
selves whether we cannot by introspection distinguish the act 
of setting oneself to bring about a change, as entirely different 
from the choosing or deciding to bring it about. Not only does 
introspection show them to be quite different in character, but 
a considerable time may elapse between the one and the other; 
for a decision may be a decision to do something a minute, an 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 199 

hour, a day, a year, indeed any length of time later, or may be a 
decision to do it 'sometime', while a 'setting oneself is a setting 
oneself to bring about a change forthwith. 

The train of means which we choose as the best way of 
attaining the chosen end may be of either of two kinds. In the 
simpler kind, it is only in the bringing into being of the first 
link in the chain that our own activity is involved. We launch 
a single action, as it were, into the world, and trust to external 
circumstances to do the rest. Of this type of case psychology 
has, of course, nothing more to say. But more often further 
action on the part of the agent will be needed if his chosen 
means are in fact to lead to the chosen end. In the normal case, 
there will be a series of self-exertions which will reproduce in 
reverse order the series of choices which worked back from the 
end to the means to be adopted here and now. But in fact the 
normal series of actions contemplated by Aristotle often fails 
to take place. We have already seen that the process of deli- 
beratiqn does not proceed smoothly in one line from end to 
means, but that a choice of end is only provisional until there 
has been some consideration of means as well, and that the 
scale of end and means may be run up and down many times 
before either end or means is finally chosen. There is, however, 
another fact which makes our actual deliberation often depart 
still more widely from the Aristotelian model. Aristotle speaks 
as if desire for an end were the only possible starting-point of 
deliberation. But we are perfectly familiar with cases in which 
deliberation starts at the other end, by some action being sug- 
gested to us, and by our going on to consider what effects it is 
likely to produce. There are countless cases in which we are 
advised, requested, begged, or commanded to do some action, 
or it is hinted to us that we might, or we are asked whether we 
are going to do it. In all these cases the thought of the imme- 
diate action is in our minds before any thought of a distant 
end; the stimulus to deliberation comes from the opposite end 
to that contemplated by Aristotle. And apart from these very 
obvious cases of suggestion by another person, it constantly 



200 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

happens that something in our environment suggests to us the 
doing of some action here and now, and deliberation takes, not 
the Aristotelian form of asking what means will produce such- 
and-such an end, but that of asking what effects such-and-such 
an action will have. 

Human beings might be divided into two types what may 
perhaps be called the planning type and the suggestible type 
according as the train of thought leading up to their choice of 
action habitually starts from the thought of an end and works 
back to means, or starts with the thought of an action suggested 
by the circumstances, and goes on to consider with more or less 
thoroughness its probable consequences. I do not suggest that 
these types are cut off from one another with a hatchet. Every 
one sometimes reasons in the one and sometimes in the other 
way; but some people tend to reason in the one and some in the 
other way. We have, on the one hand, the people with' more or 
less settled purposes in life, who scrutinize possible lines of 
action, in all important matters at least, as lines of action tending 
to conduce to or to be unfavourable to the attainment oif their 
purposes. We have, on the other hand, those who live more 
from day to day, acting more or less on the suggestion of the 
moment and as a rule not thinking out to the end the probable 
bearing of their actions on any ultimate purpose. The distinc- 
tion is, of course, by no means the same as that between good 
men and bad men. The purposes of the first type may be mean 
and selfish, no less than in other cases they are high and un- 
selfish; and the impulses of the second type may be generous 
or they may be low and narrow. It is rather the distinction 
between strength and weakness of character than between 
goodness and badness. It may safely be said that the men who 
make history, for good or for evil great statesmen, for 
instance, and great soldiers are men who by fixity of purpose 
correspond to the first type, and that the great mass of man- 
kind corresponds to the second. 

As a result of this to-and-fro movement of thought, partly 
working from desired ends to the means most likely to secure 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 201 

them, partly working from suggested actions to their probable 
effects, a decision is usually arrived at. Not always; for an 
indecisive mind, or any mind when faced with a situation of 
special difficulty, may prolong the time of deliberation till some 
more urgent problem supersedes the original problem. But 
suppose that a decision is taken. The circumstances may be 
such that the corresponding action, if it is to be done at all, 
must be done at once; and then the decision is immediately 
followed by the act decided on. Or they may be such that an 
interval should be allowed to elapse before the action is initi- 
ated. Or again, they may be such that, so far as we can see, it 
makes no difference whether the first practical step be taken at 
once or after some time. It is an interesting question whether, 
in the two latter cases, a renewed decision has to be taken 
before the act of 'setting oneself can be done, or whether the 
momentum of the original decision is enough, as it were, to 
carry us on to the first practical step. This is a question to be 
decided by introspection, and I am not certain what the 
answer is. But so far as I can judge from observing the working 
of my own mind, I am inclined to think that the momentum of 
an original decision will only carry over a very short interval. 
Suppose, for instance, that I waken at seven, and decide to get 
up in half an hour. I find that at the end of the half hour I do 
not automatically set myself to get up, but have to renew my 
decision. 

Whether a renewed decision is always necessary or not, it 
seems that it is usually desirable; for between the original 
decision and the time for action the circumstances may have so 
changed as to make the action decided on no longer the rational 
one to take, with a view to gaining one's end. Not that the 
original deliberation need all be performed over again; it may 
be enough to ask whether the circumstances have so changed. 
If we think they have not, the original decision should simply 
be renewed. If we think they have, the hard mental work of 
deliberation will not have, as a rule, to be done all over again; 
for usually the situation will not have been revolutionised but 



202 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

only changed in some details. Some probable consequences of 
any of the alternative actions will remain unchanged, and it will 
only be necessary to consider those that are changed. 

Special interest attaches to the case in which it does not 
appear to matter when, within certain limits of time, the action 
decided on is to be taken. To reach the conclusion that it does 
not matter, we must satisfy ourselves of two things: (i) that, 
if the relevant circumstances do not change unexpectedly, an 
action done at any time within the limits is as likely as an action 
done at any other time within the same limits to produce a 
certain set of results, and (2) that the relevant circumstances are 
very unlikely to change unexpectedly, or that if they do change, 
they are not likely to change in such a way as to make any other 
action more effective. It is, of course, very hard to assure one- 
self on the latter point, and if we make this assumption, it must 
be in the main because we have to admit our almost total 
ignorance of whether the relevant circumstances are likely to 
change, and if so, how. When we are in such a state of igno- 
rance, the assumption is a reasonable one to make. Why, 
then, does common sense prefer the man who 'does it now' ? 
By not doing it now, we run the risk that the circumstances 
may change so that the action decided on will become im- 
possible or less effective, and we shall be left only with a choice 
between actions less effective than it would have been; but it is 
equally possible that the circumstances may change so as to 
make possible some other action more effective than it. This 
possibility also is recognized by common sense in the maxim 
'don't cross your bridges till you come to them'. If common 
sense on the whole prefers the man who carries out his resolu- 
tions speedily, that is to be justified on two grounds: (a) that if 
you put off action till near the end of the time available, unfore- 
seen accidents may make it impossible for you withinrthe time 
limit to carry out your policy of action, or to carry it out with 
the proper amount of care at each stage, and (b] that action 
which is resolved upon with some enthusiasm, when its linkage 
with the ends you desire is clearly recognized, is apt to become 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 203 

less attractive when that linkage has receded into the back- 
ground of memory and the disagreeable features of the action 
have come into the foreground of attention; so that there 
is a danger that it may not be done at all if it is put off too 
long. 

I have tried to give an account of the process leading up to 
and including a fully deliberate act, the kind of act which we 
are usually thinking of when we speak either of the tightness or 
of the moral goodness of acts. We have seen that in this pro- 
cess there is involved not only the activity of setting oneself to 
bring about some change, but the previous activity of resolving 
so to set oneself. Moral philosophy usually speaks as if it were 
the former alone that is the subject of moral judgements; but 
it is surely clear that resolutions also are manifestations of 
moral character, that they, no less than acts, can be morally good 
or bad. It seems to me also that they, no less than acts, can be 
right or wrong, obligatory or the reverse. But this is much less 
clear than it is that they can be morally good or bad. The view 
that they are right or wrong might be attacked on either or both 
of two grounds, (i) It might be said Vhat matters is that we 
should set.ourselves to do certain things. Now, we can set our- 
selves to do things without having previously resolved to do 
so, and if so we shall have done our whole duty. The previous 
resolution, even if it is a manifestation of good character, is 
superfluous and no part of our duty.' We have, then, to examine 
whether it is possible to 'set oneself without previous resolu- 
tion, and even without previous deliberation, without which 
I take resolution to be impossible. There is no doubt that this 
can happen. If some one asks us a question, for instance, we 
usually reply truly, without deliberating whether we shall, or 
resolving to do so. The momentum, as it were, of our character 
and habifls carries us straight into the right act. Yet there re- 
main two classes of cases in which previous deliberation and 
resolution seem to be included in our duty. The one is that 
class of case in which various prima facie obligations conflict, 
so that it is not at all clear what our duty is, and only careful 



204 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

deliberation will reveal this. He would be a foolish man who 
trusted to the inspiration of the moment to yield the right 
action in such cases as these. The other is the class of cases in 
which, while our duty is clear enough, we have a strong inclina- 
tion to do something else. A man may, for instance, have a 
strong ingrained habit of telling the truth when his own 
interests are not involved; but this habit cannot be trusted to 
carry him straight to the telling of the truth when he stands to 
lose personally by doing so. In both these types of case the 
right action is in fact usually preceded by deliberation and 
resolution, and there can be no guarantee that it would be done 
if they were dispensed with. 

(2) The other objection that can be made is this: 'Even if 
resolution is in such cases necessary as a condition of the right 
action, why resolve now to do my duty to-morrow, or next 
week, or next year? Why not leave the resolution 'till just 
before the time comes for the action ?' The answer to this is that 
if we do not now put ourselves into the state of mind called 
intention (and resolving is just putting ourselves into this state), 
we shall be very likely to do meantime, on the suggestion of the 
moment, or in pursuit of other aims, things which will prevent 
us from doing, when the time comes, what it would be our 
duty to do if we could. Take, for instance, a debt which I ought 
to pay, but am under no obligation to pay till next year. If I 
do not now resolve to pay, and thus keep the duty of payment 
before my mind, I may easily be led into expenditure which 
will make it impossible to pay when the time comes. Or again, 
it is a man's duty to choose a career some time before the 
occasion arises for taking the first practical step in pursuit of it, 
because if he does not, he will very likely be led into actions 
which will make it impossible to pursue the career which but 
for them it would have been his duty to pursue. * 

The duty of resolving, then, seems to arise when either what 
is our duty is not perfectly clear, or there are desires which 
militate against the doing of it; and in either case it is a duty 
arising from the primary duty of acting in a certain way. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 205 

When I said, at the beginning of this chapter, that all moral 
action is motived by desire, I admitted one possible exception, 
viz. action from a sense of duty. Kant said that action from a 
sense of duty is not motived by desire at all that its only pre- 
conditions are the knowledge that a certain act is one's duty, 
and the emotion of respect which that thought arouses in us. 
I do not think we can say a priori that this is impossible. It 
would seem a priori possible that an emotion may serve as the 
precondition of action, no less than a desire. But whether 
Kant was right or wrong in his view, it seems clear that his 
reasons for holding it were insufficient. He held it because he 
assumed that desire belongs altogether to a lower stratum of 
our nature than reason, a purely animal stratum to which no 
worth can attach. This complete degradation of desire is not 
justified. It is clear that, quite apart from a desire to do our 
duty, we have many desires which we could not have if we 
were not rational beings. Take, for instance, the desire to under- 
stand. It would be absurd to say that this belongs to the purely 
animal part of our nature. On the contrary, it springs directly 
from our possession of reason; and if it has developed con- 
tinuously out of animal curiosity, I would rather say that 
animals, if they have curiosity, must have some spark of reason, 
than that curiosity must be irrational because animals can have 
it. And there are many other desires the desire, for instance, 
to follow a certain career or occupy a certain position which 
we should never feel unless reason had been at work, appre- 
hending the nature of human relationships and the consequent 
desirability of such a career or such a position. We are, in fact, 
not limited in our choice to Hume's view of reason as the slave 
of the desires and Kant's view of it as their inveterate foe; 
many of our desires owe their very being to our possession of 
reason. 

Kant's distrust of desire leads him to hold that all actions 
springing from desire are quite lacking in moral value that 
an action done from kindness or love, unaccompanied by the 
sense of duty, is worth no more than the most selfish or the 



2o6 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 

most cruel action. We can agree with him in thinking that the 
sense of duty is the highest motive, without following him in 
putting all other motives on the same dead level. Kant simpli- 
fies the moral life too much in making it a contest between one 
element which alone has worth and a multitude of others 
which have none; the truth rather is that it is a struggle be- 
tween a multiplicity of desires having various degrees of 
worth. 

If it be granted that we have desires that spring from our 
possession of reason, it is only natural that there should arise 
a desire, itself springing from our rational apprehension of 
principles of duty, not to be the slave of lower desires but to 
regulate our life by these principles. To say that conscientious 
action springs from such a desire, the desire to do one's duty, 
is in no way to degrade conscientious action, as Kant thought 
it would be. And in fact, when I ask myself why I do my duty 
(when I do it, and do it conscientiously), the truest answer I can 
find is that I do it because, then at least, I desire to do my duty 
more than I desire anything else. 

The question now arises, whether conscientious action can, 
like other deliberate action, be described as the adoption of 
means to an end. An answer which naturally suggests itself is 
the following: 'From one point of view, conscientious action 
is not the adoption of means to an end; for in so far as one's 
object is to do one's duty, this is something that is already 
achieved in the immediate act of self-exertion. The doing of 
one's duty may, indeed, be described as an object of desire, 
but not as a desired end^ in so far as speaking of an end 
implies that the end is something to be achieved by the use of 
means. Yet this is not the whole truth, as we may see by con- 
sidering some particular conscientious act. Suppose that some- 
one conscientiously sets himself to relieve another person's 
pain; his desire to do his duty will be satisfied by his exerting 
himself in the way that seems to him best for the purpose, but 
he will not be completely satisfied unless the means adopted 
actually secures the relief of the other's suffering. He has two 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL ACTION 207 

desires, the desire to do his duty, which is, of course, satisfied 
by his doing his duty (i.e. by his exerting himself in what 
seems the best way of helping the other man), and the desire 
to achieve the relief of a suffering person, which will be satis- 
fied only if the means adopted turn out effective/ 

This is, however, not the true account of a purely con- 
scientious act, i.e. of one in which the only effective motive is 
the desire to do one's duty; it is an account of an act in which 
there co-operates with this desire an independent desire, 
springing from natural kindliness, to relieve the other man's 
distress. In a purely conscientious act (and in using the word 
'purely' I do not mean to suggest that such an act is superior to 
one springing from the combination of the two motives, but 
only to call attention to the singleness of the motive 1 ), there is 
no wish to promote the relief of another man's suffering, inde- 
pendent, of the thought that it is one's duty to do so. Suppose 
the agent has decided that the greatest claim on him in a given 
situation is the claim of a sick man to his help. Then he has 
but one primary desire, the desire to do an act of self-exertion 
which will result in relief to the sick man, as being the doing of 
his duty. And this desire will not be satisfied unless his action 
has the effect in question. What he desires primarily is to do 
his objective duty. But, knowing the difficulty of knowing 
what act will be the doing of his objective duty, i.e. will pro- 
duce the effect in question, he has also a secondary desire, 
the desire to do his subjective duty, i.e. the act which he thinks 
to be his objective duty. And he can derive some satisfaction 
from the doing of this even if his primary desire fails to be 
satisfied. 

Thus conscientious action is the adopting of means to an 
end not, however, because the end is desired, but because the 
self-exertion which will bring about the end is desired, as being 
the doing of one's duty. 

1 cf. p. 305. 



X 

INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

NO discussion of fundamental questions of ethics would 
be complete without some discussion of the problem of 
free will; and I must therefore say something about the subject, 
even if I do not feel that I have anything very new to contri- 
bute. One can at least attempt some survey of the present 
position of the problem. The problem has been once more 
brought to the front by the appearance among physicists of the 
doctrine known as that of indeterminacy, which might at first 
sight appear to offer an analogy in physics to what libertarians 
claim to exist in moral action. I have been helped by studying 
the symposium on the subject in an extra volume of the, Aristo- 
telian Society's Proceedings. 1 Professor Broad opens the dis- 
cussion, and starts, after a few preliminaries, by considering the 
a priori argument for determinism, which he rightly treats as 
far the most important. His main contention is that deter- 
minism is not W^evident, but follows only from a certain view 
of the universe which itself when closely examined turns out 
not to be self-evident. He urges that if a determinist were 
asked why he feels sure of the truth of determinism, his answer 
would be, 'If everything else in the world up to a certain date 
had been exactly as it in fact was, and yet the subject S had then 
been in a different state from that in which it actually was, S 
would have had to have a different inner nature from that 
which it in fact had. But anything that had had a different 
inner nature from S would not have been S but a substance of 
a different kind and therefore a different substance.' Here the 
second premiss raises difficult questions; it might be suggested, 
for instance, that S might have had an inner nature different in 
some respects from that which it had, without necessarily 
losing its self-identity. And to set this possibility aside we 

1 Indeterminism, Formalism, and Value % 135-96. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 209 

should have to examine what we mean by the inner nature of a 
substance, much in the manner in which Professor Broad pro- 
ceeds to do so. But it is surely clear that the determinist does 
not need this second premiss. His first premiss is 'if everything 
else had been the same and yet S had been in a different state 
from that in which it was, S would have had to have a different 
nature from that which it had'. Professor Broad makes the 
determinist go on to supply as his second premiss 'but S could 
not have had* different nature*. But it is obviously enough for 
him to say 'but S had not a different nature from that which it 
had', without raising the question whether it could or could 
not have had it. From the new premiss + the first it will 
equally well follow that, everything else being as it was, S 
could not have been in a different state from that in which it 
was. The determinist is in fact saying that the question 
whether S is at a certain moment to be in one state or in another 
must depend on something^ and that if it does not depend on 
anything else in the universe (as ex hypothesi it does not, 
since 'everything else is supposed to be the same), it must depend 
on something in S. And this is surely as self-evident as any- 
thing could be. 

I think/ therefore, that Professor Broad's analysis of the inner 
nature of a substance is unnecessary for the discussion of deter- 
minism. At the same time, it will be only fair to follow his 
exposition in detail; and I do not question the value, in its own 
place, of his analysis. It may be summarized as follows: 

'To ascribe a property to a subject is to assert that its states are 
connected with its previous states and relations by a causal formula. 
A property of the first order is a causal formula in which none of the 
variables are themselves properties, but all are simple attributes 
like, say, greenness. Instances of first-order properties are the 
magnetic ^property, the properties of a solid, the properties of a 
liquid, the properties of a gas. Now any given subject may change 
in respect of any such first-order property; e.g. it may pass from the 
liquid to the gaseous state. But if so, there will be a second-order 
property which is the property of changing in respect of a certain 



no INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

first-order property under certain conditions. Thus it is a second- 
order property of water to lose the property of liquidity and acquire 
that of gaseousness at a certain temperature under any given pres- 
sure. There may be a third-order property which is the property of 
losing one second-order property and acquiring another under 
certain conditions, and there may be properties of still higher order. 
But there must be some ultimate property of the nth order which 
determines changes in respect of properties of the (n i)th order, 
which property in turn determines changes in respect of properties 
of the (n i)th order, and so on, so that in the long run all changes the 
substance undergoes are determined by one of its ultimate pro- 
perties. This ultimate property is, or these ultimate properties are, 
its inner nature, in accordance with which all its changes must take 
place/ 

The determinist assumption is next formulated, as follows: 

'(i) Every substance has a set of ultimate properties, each of 
which is of finite order. 

'(ii) No substance can change in respect of any of its ultimate 
properties. 

'(iii) Any substance whose ultimate properties had differed hi any 
respect from those which S in fact fyas would necessarily have been 
a different substance from S. 

'(iv) The value of any variable property of a substance at any 
moment is inferrible from one or more of its higher-order pro- 
perties by substituting in the latter the determinate values of its 
states and relations immediately before that moment. 

*(v) The state of a substance at any moment with respect to any 
characteristic which is not a property is inferrible from its first- 
order properties at that moment by inserting in one or more of them 
the determinate values of its states and relations immediately before 
that moment/ 1 

From this complex assumption Professor Broad rightly says 
that determinism follows at once. But he thinks that certain 
parts of the assumption are not certainly true. Oh the first 
three propositions he comments that they are involved in the 
notion of substance, but that it is doubtful whether there are 

1 Ibid. 144. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 211 

substances, and whether, if so, all events must be states of 
substances. Now to me, in spite of the very great difficulties 
involved in thinking out the nature of substance, it seems self- 
evident that there must be substances, and that all events must 
happen in or to substances. And I think that if empirical 
evidence were needed of the existence of substances, i.e. of 
beings which undergo change and yet retain their self-identity 
through it, we have the clearest evidence of it in the facts of 
self-consciousness, and particularly of memory, in which we 
certainly seem to have direct awareness that that which re- 
members is one and the same being that had the experience 
which it remembers. But the difficulties in thinking out the 
notion of substance are certainly sufficiently great to raise in 
many minds an honest doubt whether there are or ever could 
be substances, and whether the world is not to be interpreted 
solely in* terms of qualities, relations, and events. I would 
therefore prefer not to rest the principle of determinism on the 
belief in substances. But I may remark in passing that if a case 
could be made out for libertarianism by criticizing the notion 
of substance, the gain for the theory of morals would be one 
that would not be worth having at the price it would cost, the 
price of forgoing any belief in a permanent self-identical self. 
On the fifth proposition Professor Broad says that it does 
not seem to him self-evident that a substance must have so 
many first-order properties as to determine its states at any 
moment down to the last degree of determinateness. He thinks 
it possible that its first-order properties might suffice only to 
confine its states, with respect to various characteristics, within 
narrow limits, leaving free play within these limits. And he 
makes a similar remark about proposition (iv). Let us see what 
this suggestion implies. It means that, all the properties, states, 
and relations of a substance being what they are (and in saying 
'all its relations being what they are', we imply 'all things else 
in the universe, in so far as they can influence the object, being 
what they are'), any one of several different states can yet 
indifferently come into being in the subject. And this is to say 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

that whatever state does emerge, its taking the precise form that 
it does is accounted for by nothing whatever in the whole 
preceding state of the universe. To say this is to imply the 
existence of causation as regards the broad features of any state 
of affairs, and to deny it about the details; and for this I can see 
no justification whatever. It would be more rational to go the 
whole way with Hume and say that 'all events are entirely loose 
and separate*, one state of the universe, or rather one set of 
simultaneous states of the various things that are, succeeding 
another without being in any way determined by it. Our con- 
viction that things cannot be as Professor Broad suggests they 
are, seems to me not to depend on the assumption of the exis- 
tence of substances, but to be equally clear if we try to think of 
mere events coming into existence, determined as to their 
general nature but undetermined as to their precise form. 
Professor Broad's analysis surely only leads us back to the 
original question, which is the question whether we are or are 
not certain that there must be something to account for each 
event's happening precisely as it does. 

If our conviction of the law of causation rested on a posteriori 
evidence, such a half-hearted belief in causation might be 
justified. For it cannot be claimed that our powers of observa- 
tion and measurement are such that we could ever on the 
ground of experience assert complete determinism. We can 
measure only down to the degree of accuracy of our measuring 
instruments, including our eyes. We do not know the precise 
determinate value of the variables either in the earlier or in the 
later of two states of the universe, or of two states of a single 
substance, and as far as observation goes two antecedent states 
might be exactly alike and the two subsequent states slightly 
different, or two antecedent states slightly different and the 
subsequent states exactly alike. All that experience can en- 
able us to do is to correlate limitation within certain limits in 
the antecedent state with limitation within certain limits in the 
subsequent. Now I venture to think that were it not that some 
recent physical observations have suggested to some observers 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 213 

that precise determination in the antecedent state is consistent 
with slight variations in the subsequent state, no philosopher 
would have suggested indeterminism, at any rate as regards 
physical events, as a possibly true view. But it is surely clear 
that empirical evidence can never establish indeterminism, any 
more than it can establish determinism. The most that obser- 
vation can justify a man of science in saying is, 1 find here a 
variation in respect of a certain characteristic, which I cannot 
correlate with any variation in the antecedent state of the 
universe which is at all likely to be relevant to it*. He can never 
be in a position to say 'there is no corresponding variation in 
the antecedent state'; he can only say, 1 cannot observe any'. 
Now while empirical evidence could never prove the truth of 
determinism, it has gone a very long way to confirm its truth, 
which I believe we know independently of such evidence. 
The whole progress of science has depended on the assumption 
that the precise form of every event has a precise cause to account 
for it, and the history of science has provided a series of trium- 
phant vindications of this assumption. Over and over again, 
where common sense sees no variation in the antecedent to 
account for a variation in the consequent, science by more care- 
ful measurement and stricter reasoning has discovered such a 
variation to exist. At present physics has reached a point at 
which in regard to certain phenomena it cannot detect such a 
variation. But to sit down before this defeat and say 'no varia- 
tion existed; the event just happened so, without cause', is to 
be untrue to the whole history of science, to give up because of 
a temporary defeat a principle which has everywhere else 
carried it to victory. 

I have just described the belief in the law of causation as 
having been often vindicated by experience; but such an 
expression* needs careful qualification. Strictly speaking, 
neither the law of causation nor its denial can be confirmed by 
experience. This follows from the nature of the law. The law 
may be formulated in various ways, which in principle come 
to the same thing. One way, which will serve as well as another, 



2i 4 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

is to say, 'for every variation between two events, there must 
be some variation between the antecedent circumstances, 
without which the variation between the events would not 
have existed'. This cannot be proved by experience, because 
no set of experiences could claim to have covered all past 
events, let alone those that are still in the future. Nor can it be 
disproved by experience, because all that can be said on the 
basis of experience is 'no variation has been observed', not 'no 
variation existed'. Not only the law of causation, but any 
law of the form 'for any A there is always a JB\ when the 
number of As is infinite, is incapable of being proved by ex- 
perience. But furthermore, the law of causation cannot even, 
strictly speaking, be confirmed or even partly confirmed by 
experience. For the law says not merely 'wherever there is a 
variation in the events, there is a variation in the previous con- 
ditions', but 'wherever there is a variation in the events, there 
must be a variation in the conditions without which the variation 
in the events could not have existed 9 ; and experience, even where 
it verifies the existence of a variation in the previous condi- 
tions, can never assure us that without it the variation in the 
events could not have taken place. In other words, while 
experience can prove the existence of a constant conjunction 
within the limits of the experience, it can never discover the 
existence of a necessity; only reason or insight can do that. 

If one says, then, that experience confirms or vindicates the 
law of causation, it can only be in a Pickwickian sense. When- 
ever experience verifies the existence of a variation in the con- 
ditions answering to a variation in the events, this confirms the 
belief in the law of causation only in the sense that it weakens 
the case of one who denies the law on the ground that experience 
presents us with numbers of cases in which the one variation 
exists without the other, by diminishing the number of in- 
stances on which he might otherwise rely. 

What has given rise in the last few years to a doubt or denial, 
by some physicists, of the universality of the law of causation, 
is certain facts with regard to the behaviour of atoms. The 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 215 

original form of the so-called principle of indeterminacy was 
this: The atom was thought of as consisting of a nucleus, with 
electrons rotating round it in a certain restricted set of orbits. 
Radiation from the atom was supposed to take place when and 
only when an electron jumps from one to another of this set of 
orbits, and the principle of indeterminacy asserted that the 
jumping or not jumping of an electron from one orbit to 
another was undetermined. It is surely obvious that the only 
ground which could have led any one, in this situation, to think 
that the movement was undetermined was that there was no 
known difference between the constitution and circumstances 
of one electron and those of another, which could account for 
the one's behaving in one way and the other's behaving in 
another. And it is equally clear that the rational conclusion to 
draw was, not that there was no difference to account for this, 
but that there was a not yet known difference which accounted 
for it. But, since this way of stating the principle of indeter- 
minacy seems now to have been abandoned in most quarters, 
we need not dwell on it. In the later form of the theory, the 
pictorial representation of the atom is given up. There is much 
diversity in the statement of the later form of the theory, and 
it may be of some assistance to the reader if I quote some 
typical statements. Mr. Birtwistle 1 states the matter as follows: 

'At the instant when the position is determined the momentum 
of the electron is suddenly changed. This change of momentum is 
all the greater the shorter the wave-length of the light used, i.e. the 
more accurate the determination of position is. Thus at the moment 
when the position of the electron is known, its momentum can only 
be known to an order equal to the discontinuous change. Hence 
the more exactly a coordinate q is determined, the less exactly can 
its momentum/? be found; and conversely.' 

Mr. E^rac's 2 statement of the matter is this: 

* We find that our wave packet represents a state for which a measure- 
ment of q is almost certain to lead to a result lying in a domain of 

1 G. Birtwistle, The New Quantum Mechanics, 276-7. 

2 P. A. M. Dirac, The Principles of Quantum Mechanics 2 , 103. 



216 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

width Ay' and a measurement of p is almost certain to lead to a 
result lying in a domain of width A/? 7 . We may say that for this 
state q has a definite value with an error of order Ay' and p has a 
definite value with an error of order A/?'. The product of these two 
errors is 

' = h. 



Thus the more accurately one of the variables y, p has a definite 
value, the less accurately the other has a definite value/ 

Mr. FrenkePs 1 statement is as follows: 

'Since the position itself can be observed with only a limited ac- 
curacy of the order of magnitude A and the corresponding uncertainty 
in the value of the momentum is of the order of magnitude A/A, the 
product of the two inaccuracies or rather of the inaccuracy of the 
observation of the coordinates of the particle and the resulting 
uncertainty in the evaluation of its momentum for the instant of 
observation is approximately equal to h. . . . It is impossible to 
measure simultaneously with any degree of precision the position 
and the momentum of a material particle, because the measurement 
of the one implies, or produces, an uncertainty in the estimation of 
the other/ 

If it is said that certain experiments with regard to atoms 
reveal that an electron has not at any moment both a deter- 
minate position and a determinate momentum (though, the 
more indeterminate the one is, the less indeterminate is the 
other), this saying seems to me susceptible of three different 
meanings. It may be taken to mean that science is not in a 
position to assign definite values to both the position and the 
momentum. This would indicate a regrettable gap in the state 
of our knowledge, and possibly in any future state of our know- 
ledge, but can have no bearing on the metaphysiqal problem of 
indeterminism. Or it may be taken to mean that while an elec- 
tron has a position and a momentum, these are not in fact de- 
finite; and this cannot be anything but nonsense. If, as is now 
thought, electrons are not, as they were earlier conceived to be, 
'particles concentrated almost into points 5 , but partake at the 

1 J. Frenkel, Wave Mechanics, Elementary Theory 2 , 48-9. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 217 

same time of the nature of waves spreading throughout space', 1 
then it may be improper to describe them as having position or 
momentum at a moment at all (they being entities too compli- 
cated to have a single position or momentum), but what is 
surely quite clear is that nothing in the world can have a 
position which is not a definite position or a momentum which 
is not a definite momentum. Or, thirdly, the phrase may be 
taken to mean that, while an electron has a definite position 
and a definite momentum, these are not completely determined 
by pre-existing conditions. It is only in this third form that 
the newer conception has any direct bearing on the problem of 
indeterminism; and in its third form it is in principle the same 
as the older 'principle of indeterminacy', in which electrons 
were thought of as small solid particles whose jumps from 
orbit to orbit are not determined; and precisely the same 
comment* must be made on it as on the older theory. 

Mr. Birtwistle and Mr. Frenkel state the matter with perfect 
propriety in the first of these three ways. They do not suggest 
that the electron has not a definite position and momentum, or 
that it has a position and a momentum which are not determined 
by previous^conditions; they only say that we cannot find out 
precisely both its position and its momentum. Again, Mr. Dirac 
does not suggest that the position and the momentum are not 
determined by previous conditions; and when he says 'the 
.more accurately one of the variables q,p has a definite value, the 
less accurately the other has a definite value', this must, I think, 
be interpreted in the light of the fuller preceding statement in 
which he says y has a definite value with an error of order q 
and p has a definite value with an error of order //' ; i.e. q and/? 
have definite values, but values which we cannot discover exactly. 

The most authoritative statement, however, of Heisenberg's 
principle of indeterminacy is that by Heisenberg himself. 
Towards the end of his famous article 2 he says : 3 'An der scharfen 
Formulierung des Kausalgesetzes : "Wenn wir die Gegenwart 

1 H. Dingle, Through Science to Philosophy^ 289. 

2 Zeitschrift fur Physik, 43 (1927), 172-98. 3 Ibid. 197. 



2i8 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

genau kennen, konnen wir die Zukunft berechnen", ist nicht 
der Nachsatz, sender die Voraussetzung falsch. Wir konnen 
die Gegenwart in alien Bestimmungsstiicken prinzipiell nicht 
kennenlernen.' Now clearly to deny that the if-clause of the 
statement 'if we know the present, we can calculate the future* 
is ever fulfilled is not to deny the statement itself, and therefore 
not to cast any doubt on the law of causality. Heisenberg, 
however, goes on to ask whether behind the perceived, merely 
'statistical world' a real world conceals itself, in which the 
causal law is valid, and proceeds to say: 'Weil alle Experimente 
den Gesetzen der Quantenmechanik und damit der Gleichung 
(i) 1 unterworfen sind, so wird durch die Quantenmechanik die 
Ungiiltigkeit des Kausalgesetzes definitiv festgestellt.' The 
conclusion is clearly not warranted. If it is true, as we may well 
admit, that the state of a particle can never be known with 
complete precision in respect of all its properties, theh we can 
never establish the law of causality inductively by showing that 
each later state is completely determined by an earlier state: 
but anyone who regards the law of causality as self-evident and 
needing no proof, inductive or of any other kind, will not be 
shaken by being told that an inductive proof of it is impossible. 
Such a matter is not to be settled by weight of authority, 
but by reason; but lest any one should suppose that the weight 
of scientific authority is in fact in favour of accepting indeter- 
minism in the physical world on the strength of experiments 
on the atom, it may be worth while to quote the words of 
Einstein, 'that nonsense is not merely nonsense; it is objection- 
able nonsense', 2 and those of Planck, the discoverer of the facts 
upon which the theory of indeterminacy has been founded. 
Planck pronounces with vigour equal to Einstein's against the 
theory and in favour of the universality of causation: Tn point 
of fact, statistical laws are dependent upon the assumption of 
the strict law of causality functioning in each particular case. 

1 ?> P* '* W h (ibid., p. 175); i.e. the product of the indeterminacy of the position of 
an electron, multiplied by the indeterminacy of its velocity, is constant. 

2 M. Planck, Where is Science Going?, 201. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 219 

And the non-fulfilment of the statistical rule in particular cases 
is not therefore due to the fact that the law of causality is not 
fulfilled, but rather to the fact that our observations are not 
sufficiently delicate or accurate to put the law of causality to a 
direct test in each case/ 1 The truth must surely be this, that the 
failure of science, so far, to discover causes for certain events 
is not a fact to be accepted with complacency or with enthu- 
siasm and made the basis of a theory, but should be treated as 
a challenge to further inquiry in the hope of replacing our 
ignorance by knowledge. We must regard the principle of 
indeterminacy as one of the crude theories which are apt to be 
put forward in the years immediately after the discovery of 
some startling experimental fact, before the true meaning of the 
fact has been really digested. 

Sir Arthur Eddington's contribution to the symposium is 
very different from Professor Broad's. The latter contents 
himself with saying that there may be some very slight element 
of indeterminacy in physical processes. Sir Arthur Eddington 
tries *to persuade us that the whole doctrine of causal deter- 
mination has in the current state of physics gone completely 
by the board and been replaced by that of probability. There 
is one type of discovery that lends some plausibility to this 
view. There have been, I suppose, several cases in which an 
older generation thought it had discovered that all particles of 
a type P behave under certain circumstances in a certain deter- 
minate manner Qd, while later discovery has shown that 
different instances of P behave in slightly varying ways Qa, 
Qb, Qc, . . ., and that the truth is only that a large number of 
P y s will have characteristic Q in varying forms grouped closely 
round the form Qd. From this a hasty thinker may easily draw 
the conclusion that there are no laws prescribing the precise 
behaviour of single instances of P, but only laws stating the 
average behaviour of a large number of P's. And it is often the 

1 Ibid. 145; cf. ibid. 210. I may refer also to two contributions in the Travaux du 
IX* Congr&s International de Philosophic those by M. M. Barzin (vii. 15-20) and by 
Lord Samuel (vii. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

case that at a certain stage of our knowledge this is the only sort 
of law about their behaviour that we know. But even to dis- 
cover such a statistical law as this is to obtain some confirmation 
of the view that being P determines any particular P to have 
the attribute Q in some form, and leaves us perfectly free to 
suppose that the particular mode and degree of Q which a 
particular P has depends on still unknown particularities of its 
nature or of its environment; which indeed is the only rational 
conclusion to draw. 

There is, however, one line of thought which Sir Arthur 
works out with some care, 1 which it is worth while to follow. 
He points out that the majority of the inferences which science 
draws are inferences about the past. And his view about such 
inferences amounts, I think, to dividing them into three classes. 
There are (i) inferences in which from a later event in the 
history of a substance we infer its previous possession 6f some 
attribute or set of attributes whose existence can be verified 
apart from the inference; e.g. the conclusion, from some test, 
that a certain salt was silver nitrate which can be verified by 
other means than the test in question. There are (2) inferences 
in which from a later event in the history of a substance we 
infer its previous possession of some attribute which we cannot 
verify independently, but can know or reasonably think to 
belong to some already known class of characteristics. It is an 
inference of this kind if we infer that the Iliad and the Odyssey 
were written by two different though unidentified men; for we 
already know that difference of personal identity is likely to 
lead to difference of style. There are (3) inferences in which 
from observation of some character in a later event we infer 
that there must have been something to cause it, without know- 
ing or even being able to conjecture what it was. To this last 
class belong the phenomena which have given rise tQ the new 
doctrine of indeterminacy. Here we can, if we please, say S l 
behaves in one particular way, and S 2 in another; therefore 
there must have been some difference in the previous character 

1 InJeterminism, Formalism, and Paluc, 168-72. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 221 

of S l and S 2 , though we have no idea what it is'. This, because we 
do not know what the two differing characters of S l and S 2 can 
be and can only describe them at the moment as 'something that 
will lead S to behave in one way' and 'something that will lead 
S 2 to behave in another way 5 , Sir Arthur describes as not being 
genuine inference. *I am well aware/ he says, 'that our ignorance 
is immense; but I see no point in attempting to enumerate 
the things which might exist without our knowing them/ 1 

What exactly is the cash value of the distinction? The posi- 
tion is simply this, (i) In the first case, where we can trace a 
difference between two results to a difference in the causes 
which can be independently verified to extet, we have a partial 
confirmation if confirmation were needed of the law of 
causality. (2) In the second case we think we are on the track 
of such a confirmation, since we have an inkling of what the 
difference between the causes will turn out to be. (3) In the 
third case we have no inkling of how or where the confirmation 
will occur. But the inference 'since the effects are different the 
causes must be* is just as sound as it is in the other two cases, 
though it remains, owing to our ignorance, for the present 
unverified by experience. The occurrence of such cases throws 
no doubt whatever on the law of causality; it simply fails to 
provide fresh confirmation of it. And, to speak for a moment 
pragmatically, one may surely point out that science would 
never have made the progress it has made if, whenever men 
failed to trace different causes for different events, they had 
been content to suppose that the events just happened to be 
different for no reason at all. The present failure of science to 
know why atoms sometimes behave in one way and sometimes 
in another is not different from many another case in the past 
history of science in which the momentary failure led people 
who had ( a firmer grasp of the causal principle than Sir Arthur 
has, to some of the greatest triumphs of science. 2 

1 Ibid. 173. 

2 I have not discussed Mr. Braithwaite's contribution to the Symposium, because 
the other two seem to have raised sufficiently the points in dispute. 



222 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

As regards the physical universe, then, I think we may 
remain unrepentant determinists; must we be so as regards the 
universe of moral action ? At the outset it must be said that we 
are much farther, in this region, from the possibility of empirical 
verification of the law of causation than in the region of physical 
action. When we conclude from the observation of two 
physical events that a greater force must have been at work to 
produce the one effect than to produce the other, we usually 
can verify by independent means the excess of the one force 
over the other. When we infer, because a man does the one and 
not the other of two acts, that he must have desired the one 
more than the other, we have no delicate instruments of 
measurement by which we can verify that one desire actually 
was stronger than the other. Sometimes we can do so by intro- 
spection, and then we are so far verifying the law of causation; 
but often it is only by observing what we proceed to t/othat we 
can know what we desired most. And here we are in the same 
position as we were in respect to the third of Sir Arthur 
Eddington's types of inference. We get no empirical verifica- 
tion of the law of causality, but nothing (in the mere fact men- 
tioned) to lead us to doubt it. Those who are interested in the 
question of a posteriori reasons for determinism will find in 
Professor Broad's article a careful study of the facts which 
make such verification far less complete in the moral universe 
than it is in the physical. 1 But it is clear that the essential 
question is whether we have or have not a priori knowledge of 
the law of causality and of its application to moral action; and 
the empirical arguments on either side cut very little ice. 

The strength of the a priori argument for determinism in 
ethics rests on the consideration that the law of causality does 
not present itself to our minds as one peculiar to physical events 
but as one applying to all events as such. An event which 
escaped its sway would be an event of which no explanation 
could be given. Suppose some one says that one is here taking 
one's notion of an event from physical events and applying it 

1 Inaturminism, Formalism 9 and Vcdu* t 146*9. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 223 

without reflection to mental events; my answer would have to 
be that I at least make no use of the conception of anything 
physical when I say every event must have a cause; by an event 
I mean any change, anything that takes place. And it is surely 
clear that even for a libertarian the line is drawn not between 
physical events and mental, but between one special class of 
mental events and all other events whether mental or physical. 
No one wants to exempt from the law of causation the occurrence 
of a sensation on the occasion of a physical stimulus; or the 
occurrence of an inference on the occasion of the grasping of 
its premisses. In the one case the event is thought to be com- 
pletely determined by the physical stimulus + the pre-existent 
nature and state of the body and of the mind; in the other by 
the occurrence of the grasping of the two premisses in their 
connexion. We certainly cannot choose what conclusion we 
shall draw from the premisses; if we see their truth and notice 
their relevance to one another we cannot but see the truth 
which by the laws of logic follows from them. It is only acts 
where j cA0rc is involved that can with any plausibility be said 
to escape the law of causation. And while there might con- 
ceivably be some plausibility in making the law of causation 
apply to all physical and to no mental events, it is very un- 
plausible to make it apply to all physical and some mental but 
not to other mental events. 

The strength of the case for libertarianism, therefore, cannot 
'be said to rest on any ontological ground upon which we could 
expect acts of choice to be free from the law of causation. It 
rests on two things alone on the supposed intuition of free- 
dom, and on the thought that morality involves freedom. 
These are the things at which we must look more closely. I 
may just say in passing that, if we could believe in occasional or 
even in universal indeterminacy in the physical world, that 
view, which is equivalent to a belief in blind chance, would 
furnish no support either for our intuition of freedom or for 
our awareness of duty. 

In considering the intuition of freedom, we shall do well to 



224 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

consider separately the two questions of freedom to choose, or 
decide, or resolve, and of freedom to do what we have resolved 
upon. As regards choice, what is it that we really are aware of? 
We are aware that a certain kind of activity called choice or 
resolution takes place, which is different from any other 
activity different, in particular, from desiring, and from 
desiring one thing more than another; and we are aware that it 
is we and not anything else that performs this activity. We are 
aware that desires are not like physical forces beating on a 
physical body from without, to which it is merely passive. 
They are occurrences happening in the very same being which 
chooses among them; and they are occurrences such that the 
mere occurrence of one stronger than all others does not ipso 
facto lead to corresponding action. We are aware that we often 
reflect on them and come to see that a desire which as it origi- 
nally presented itself was stronger than another, nevertheless 
harmonizes less well with the universe of our interests; and we 
are aware that when we come to see this, it becomes less strong, 
or some other becomes stronger, and that we then act on what 
was at first the weaker but is now the stronger desire, or follow 
the line of what was at first the greater but is now the lesser 
resistance. Can it be maintained that there is an 'intuition of 
freedom to which this account does not do justice ? It seems to 
me that it cannot, and that reflection on the relations between 
opinion, desire, and choice shows that it cannot. Let us first 
take, as the simpler case, one in which the thought of duty does* 
not occur, one in which we choose, for instance, between two 
courses promising different pleasant experiences to ourselves. 
The suggestion is that at one point in the nexus of events there 
comes a choice in which some element of the self operates quite 
freely, independent of the circumstances and also of the self's 
system of interests as they exist at the moment. Suppose (i) 
that the act of suspense, whereby we decline to act immediately 
on the strongest desire and instead subject the desires to reflec- 
tion, has already taken place. It can hardly be maintained 
that then we can by an act of free choice (i.e. choice indepen- 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 225 

dent of the circumstances and of our system of interests) control 
the remoulding which the desires undergo as they are brought 
into relation with our universe of interests. The existing uni- 
verse of our interests determines that. Not that we are passive 
in this process; it is by the activity of thinking about the alter- 
native courses of action that we come to desire one action more 
than the other. We are not a field on which desires as indepen- 
dent entities wage their battle. But the I which thinks and desires 
is the I which has been moulded by its previous experiences and 
opinions and actions. 

At the end of the process we are desiring one act more than 
the other. Can it be maintained, then, (2) that thereupon we 
are conscious of freedom nevertheless to do either of the two 
acts ? Is it not clear that, in a case where the thought of duty 
does not come in, we inevitably do that which after reflection 
we most wish to do ? And incidentally we may ask, 'Would 
there be any moral value in a freedom to do, in such a case, 
what we do not most wish to do ?' It would be a freedom to 
act foi no reason, and indeed against reason. 

Can it be maintained (3) that, while the determinate self, 
with its universe of interests, determines what we do, if we 
perform the act of suspense, an indeterminate element in us 
performs the act of suspense ? Is it not clear that we perform 
this act only if we think, for example, that the greater of two 
immediate pleasures may bring more pain in its train than the 
lesser of the two ? And is it not clear again that we are not free 
either to think or not to think this, that whether we do or do not 
think it depends on the circumstances and on the determinate 
kind of being that we are when we compare the two pleasures ? 
We cannot choose what opinion we shall form about the situa- 
tion, and what we do think about it determines us to perform 
the act of suspense; or else fails to determine us to perform it, 
and then we do not perform it. Freedom to suspend or not to 
suspend action irrespective of any reason for doing either 
would, again, be a freedom not worth having. To sum up, 
then, we do not seem, on reflection, to be conscious either of a 

4584 n 



226 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

power of thinking what we please in the light of given evidence, 
or of a power of desiring what we please independently of our 
opinions, or of a power of doing what we do not most desire to 
do. Nor, if we had any of these powers, would it be of the 
slightest value. What would be the moral value of a power of 
forming opinions not based on the evidence, of desiring not in 
accordance with our opinion, or of acting to get what we do not 
desire ? 

'But', it might be said, 'the situation is altered when we turn 
to cases in which the thought of duty occurs to us. Then, at 
least, we do not choose according to the strongest desire; we 
may choose to do our duty instead of what we desire/ If one 
has done a conscientious act, and is then asked why one did it, 
the answer which first comes to one's lips is 'because it was my 
duty'; and in this there is no mention of desire. Duty tends to 
be represented as something standing over against all objects of 
desire. But a little reflection shows that our answer was highly 
elliptical. It is clear that an act's being our duty is never the 
reason why we do it. For however much an act may be our 
duty we shall not be led on that account to do it, unless we 
know or think it to be our duty. And again, the thought that 
an act is our duty will lead us just as much to do it when it is 
not in fact our duty as when it is. Thus our answer C I did it 
because it was my duty' must be changed into the form 1 did it 
because I knew it, or thought it (as the case may be), to be my 
duty'. But even this is still elliptical. For it is a familiar fact' 
that people often know or think an act to be their duty and yet 
do not do it. They will do it only if in addition to knowing 
or thinking it to be their duty they are impelled with a certain 
degree of intensity towards the doing of duty with enough 
intensity to overcome the urge towards any of the alternative 
possible acts. Thus the fuller and truer answer would be, 1 did 
the act because I knew, or thought, it to be my duty, and 
because I was more powerfully impelled, or attracted, towards 
it as being my duty than I was towards any alternative act.' 
Now a question arises as to the nature of the impulsion. The 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 227 

simpler account would consist in saying that all impulsion is 
desire, and that therefore our answer may be put in the form, 
*I did the act because I knew, or thought, it to be my duty, and 
because I desired to do it, as being my duty, more than I de- 
sired to do any other act/ And if this description is true, con- 
scientious action would fall under the same description which 
we have seen to apply to actions in which the thought of duty 
does not occur; it would be action in accordance with the 
strongest desire present at the moment. 

The alternative would be the view that what impels us to do 
our duty is not desire but a certain specific emotion which only 
the thought of duty arouses the emotion which Kant calls 
Achtungy respect or reverence. Now I think it is clear that the 
thought of duty does arouse such a specific emotion. It arouses 
it in very varying degrees in different people, and in the same 
person ,at different times; and in some people the emotion is 
very weak. Not only do they habitually not do their duty, but 
they feel little or no shame or remorse at not having done it; 
while if the emotion in question had any considerable strength, 
this would at least lead to remorse after the act, even if it were 
not strong enough to overrule the desires that lead men to do 
the act. Still, in the ordinary man the clear recognition of a 
duty undoubtedly arouses to some extent the emotion of 
respect. Kant represents the choice between doing and not 
doing our duty as resultant on a struggle between desire and 
respect, and resists strongly the suggestion that it is resultant 
on a struggle between desire and desire. But this seems to be 
due to his tendency to accept too readily the Hobbesian view 
that all desire is for the agent's pleasure. Since the motive in 
dutiful action is clearly not that, he infers that it is not desire at 
all. But it is now generally admitted that Hobbes was wrong; 
and if we recognize that there is a variety of desires for objects 
other than one's own pleasure, there seems to be no objection 
in principle to recognizing a desire to do one's duty; and cer- 
tainly introspection seems to reveal such a desire. It seems to 
me, further, that the emotion of respect aroused by the thought 



228 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

that a certain act is one's duty produces, in proportion to its 
own strength, a desire to do that act, and that duty is done when 
and only when that desire is stronger than all those with which 
it has to contend. 

But, it might be said, if action is described as following upon 
the strongest desire, is not resolution or choosing or deciding 
made completely nugatory? Would not the same act follow if 
the step called choosing were entirely omitted ? The answer to 
this is in principle contained in what I have said previously. It is 
the nature of each single desire to be concentrated on a single 
feature in an imagined future, and if desire were left to itself 
we should act to get the most desired of these isolated features. 
But in fact every such desired feature involves, in the getting of 
it and as a result of the getting of it, many other features which 
are not desired. To get the single thing which at the moment 
we desire most of all things, we might involve ourselves in 
getting many things that will give us pain, or in doing actions 
to which we have a strong moral repugnance. In the delibera- 
tion which precedes choice we set ourselves, more or less 
thoroughly according to our character, to choose not between 
isolated objects of desire but between acts each of which is 
thought to involve a whole set of consequences, and it is one 
act with all its expected consequences that is chosen in prefer- 
ence to all others with all their expected consequences. The 
choice is thus determined not by the strength of the isolated 
desires as they were before the process of deliberation, but by 
the strength of the appeal which one act, with all that it is 
expected to involve, makes on us, as compared with the appeal 
which the alternatives make. Thus what is resolved on may be, 
and often is, very different from what would have been done if 
deliberation and choice had not intervened. What choice de- 
pends upon, and reveals, is not the strength of isolated desires 
but the trend of the whole character, of the whole system of 
more or less permanent desires, including of course the desire 
to do one's duty. 

The nature of choice, and its importance, may, it seems to 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

me, be brought out by contrasting the way in which we 
actually behave with two accounts of behaviour which might 
suggest themselves as possible accounts. I assume that every 
desire must at any one moment be of a perfectly definite in- 
tensity, and that all desires must be comparable on a single 
scale of intensity, even though it must be admitted that we are 
quite incapable of distinguishing the intensities of two desires 
which are very much alike in intensity. Now it might be 
thought in the first place that action would be determined by 
the strongest single desire. That, however, is not what hap- 
pens. I take a simple case. If I am attracted to act A by a 
desire, of intensity 3/2, to get a certain pleasure for myself, and 
to act B by a desire, of intensity 2/z, to give a certain pleasure to 
another person, and am attracted to act B also by a desire, of 
intensity 2/z, to give a certain pleasure to a third person, I shall 
actually do act jff, though the strongest single desire that is 
affecting me is attracting me towards the other act. That is the 
truth that is vaguely expressed by saying that it is the universe 
of my desires that determines my action, and not the strongest 
single desire. But, on the other hand, it must not be supposed 
that all the desires that are present in me co-operate to deter- 
mine my action, as the movement of a body is determined, in 
accordance with the parallelogram of forces, by all the forces 
that are acting on it. If that were so in human action, our action 
would be an attempt to get to some extent each and all of the 
many things we happen to be desiring; and it is clear that such 
action would be futile in the extreme. What happens, in per- 
sons of strong character, is something quite different; they 
make up their minds that certain of the things they want are 
incompatible with certain other things that they want more; 
and they then suppress the desires for the former, so far as 
concern?, their becoming influences affecting their behaviour. 
They cannot entirely suppress these desires; but they cause 
them to be, not motives modifying their action, but mere long- 
ings for certain objects, which remain even when these objects 
have been resolutely renounced. This, it seems to me, is the 



2 3 o INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

great difference between physical and mental causation, that in 
the latter there is no law of the composition of all the forces 
concerned, but some of the forces concerned are, by an act of 
choice, deprived of any effect on action. 

If the line of thought I have tried to present is true, the 
libertarian belief in its complete form cannot be true. The 
libertarian belief is the belief that, the circumstances being what 
they are, and I being what I am, with that whole system of 
beliefs, desires, and dispositions which compose my nature, it 
is objectively possible for me here and now to do either of two 
or more acts. This is not possible, because whatever act I do, 
it must be because there is in me, as I am now, a stronger 
impulse to do that act than to do any other. Every one would 
probably agree that this is so when neither of the two acts is 
being thought of as a duty. It would be agreed that then we 
must do the act, to do which we have the strongest d&ire, or 
rather the act to which the strongest mass of desire leads us. 
But it is equally true when one of the two acts is thought of as 
a duty, even if we take the view that what impels us to do an 
act of duty as such is not a desire but a specific emotion of re- 
spect or reverence. For even so we shall do the duty if and only 
if this emotion constitutes an impulse to do the act of duty, 
stronger than the impulse which moves us towards doing any 
other act. And if act A can only be done if I have a stronger 
impulse to do act A than to do act B y and if act B can only be 
done if I have a stronger impulse to do act B than to do act A^ 
it cannot be the case that I can here and now equally do either 
act. It must follow from my nature and my present condition 
that I must do act A^ or else that I must do act B. 

Not only is it metaphysically impossible that I should be 
capable of doing either act indifferently, but if I could, the 
doing of either could have no moral value. It would have no 
value, because it would not be the result of any thought about 
the nature of the act, and of any consequent impulsion to do it. 
It would be an unintelligent and unmotived leap in the dark. 

Nevertheless we all, when we are not philosophizing, tend 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 231 

to hold this opinion, and cannot altogether prevent ourselves 
from continuing to hold it even when we have come to think it 
incapable of being true. What then is the truth, if any, which 
underlies my belief that I can here and now, being what I am, 
yet do either of two or more acts? 

This belief, in the form in which we ordinarily hold it, is the 
belief that I can cause any one of two or more changes in the 
state of affairs. In some cases the change we are thinking of is a 
change in the condition of one's own mind; but far more often 
a change of something in the physical world is at least part of 
the change we think we can cause. And such changes can only 
be caused by first causing a change in the state of one's own 
body. If I think, for instance, that I can here and now tell 
either the truth or a lie, there is involved in that the thought 
that I can cause either of two sets of movements of my vocal 
chords. * And undoubtedly one main source of my sense of 
freedom to act in either of two ways is the conviction, well 
based on experience, that my soul or mind has the kind and 
degree of control over my body which will enable me, if I set my- 
self to tell the truth, to produce certain movements of my vocal 
organs, and if I set myself to tell a lie, to produce certain other 
movements of them. This conviction is not, strictly speaking, 
knowledge; for since I last made the attempt, paralysis may 
have set in and deprived me of this power. But normally the 
chances are much against this having happened, and for 
practical purposes the conviction is justified and is almost as 
good as knowledge. 

The existence of this power has of course sometimes been 
doubted. It has been thought that mind cannot act on body, 
and various forms of parallelism of mental and bodily events 
have been put forward in opposition to the belief in the action 
of mind t on body. But, as several recent discussions of the 
question have brought out, 1 the theoretical arguments against 
action of mind on body are really very weak; and the argument 
for it from experience is very strong; and, to avoid a long 

1 Sec, for instance, the discussion in Mr. Wisdom's Mind and Matter, 65-102. 



232 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

digression into psychophysics, I am going to assume that 
common sense is justified in its belief that mind can act on body 
provided of course that it is the body which belongs to the 
mind. Now it seems clear that one great source of our belief in 
freedom is our conviction a well-founded conviction, as I 
think that there are in any set of circumstances more than one 
bodily change, any one of which the mind can and will produce 
if it sets itself to do so. 

In saying that mind can produce changes in body, I do not 
mean merely that a certain change in our mental state is one of 
the conditions upon which there supervenes, and without 
which there would not supervene, a certain bodily change. 
What we naturally think is that, while there are certain static 
conditions, both of our body and of our mind, without which the 
bodily change would not take place, a mental act of self-exertion 
stands out from the background of these static conditions and 
is that which actually causes the bodily change to take place. 
To reduce causation to mere necessary sequence is to eviscerate 
it of a good deal of its natural meaning, and no cogent Reason 
has ever been given for this evisceration. 1 

When I say this, however, I ought to add that I have in the 
course of this discussion frequently used the word 'causality' 
in another and wider sense which is also justified by common 
usage. When I have referred to the law of causality I have 
meant by this the principle that no change takes place in the 
absence of conditions upon which it necessarily follows; and in 
this conception of causality there is not necessarily involved 
the thought of one thing acting on and producing a change in 
another. And indeed in the causations which we have been 
mainly considering there is no question of one thing, i.e. one 
substance, acting on another. When one says that an act of will 
is caused by the previous desires and thoughts of the wilier, 
there is no question of two substances being involved; for all 
that happens happens in or to one substance, the individual 

1 For a defence of the common-sense view of causality against the criticism of 
Hume see G. F. Stout, Mind and Matter, 15-36. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 233 

human being in question. One is then merely asserting a 
necessary connexion between earlier and later events in the 
history of this individual. When, on the other hand, one says 
that a mind by an act of choice produces a change in its own 
body, one is, I believe, asserting something more than neces- 
sary connexion; one is asserting the existence of activity and 
passivity. To avoid the ambiguity, one ought perhaps to use 
'determination' as the more general word to include both what 
is commonly called transeunt causation and what is commonly 
called immanent causation, and should restrict the word 
'causation* to what is commonly called 'transeunt causation 1 , 
to the action of one substance on another, whether it be that 
of body on body, or that of body on mind, or that of mind on 
body, or (if this occurs) that of mind on mind. 

The mind's power of controlling the body has great impor- 
tance for the moral life. If it did not exist, our moral life, our 
range of moral activities, would be immensely impoverished. 
For if a man did not think that his mind can control his body, 
he wbuld not set himself to make such movements as are in- 
volved in telling the truth, in paying his debts, in helping his 
neighbours, and the like; and if he discovered by experience 
that he cannot produce such results he would soon cease to set 
himself to produce them. His moral life would come to be 
restricted to setting himself to bring about changes in the state 
of his own character or of his own intellect. He would have a 
moral life of his own, but he would be cut off from the activities 
which make up by far the greater part of the moral life of most 
men. 

Yet the question whether the mind can control the body is 
irrelevant to the question of the freedom of the will. For if we 
say that the mind can control the body, we are making a state- 
ment abqut the effect of an act of will, and are in fact saying that 
a certain causal nexus exists between acts of will and consequent 
bodily changes; while what Libertarianism maintains is not 
anything with regard to the effects of acts of will, but that acts 
of will are not themselves caused by the pre-existing conditions. 



234 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

Suppose that a man had, without knowing it, lost the power of 
speech. He could still set himself, or make the effort, to tell the 
truth, or alternatively set himself to tell a lie. The activity of 
mind he would be exercising would be the same in the case in 
which the control over his vocal chords has ceased to exist, as 
it would be if he still had the control; and the activity of choos- 
ing between these two activities would be the same as if the 
control over the vocal chords still existed. Morally, both the 
act and the decision to act are just the same as they would be if 
the control over the body still existed. Thus control over the 
body, though it is a great part of what we usually think of when 
we assert our freedom to do this or to do that, is not the morally 
essential thing that is being claimed. The essential thing that is 
being claimed is the power to set oneself to do this, or to set one- 
self to do that, i.e. to perform a mental activity which is just the 
same whether it is or is not followed by the appropriate bodily 
movement. 

Is there any foundation for the belief that I am free to set 
myself to produce either of two or more bodily movements ? 
If my previous argument is correct, the belief cannot itself be 
true. If my nature and condition and the circumstances are such 
and such, I shall set myself to produce one change; if they are 
different, I shall set myself to produce another. Yet, if it is not 
true that I can here and now set myself to produce either 
indifferently, it is true that in a certain sense I could set myself 
to produce either. For within the total range of my nature 
there are motives which in certain circumstances would lead me 
to make the one attempt; and other motives which in certain 
circumstances would lead me to make the other. Neither act 
seems to me impossible for me, because neither is clean outside 
the range of motives which I know to exist in myself. If I knew 
myself completely, I should know either that the ope motive 
or set of motives is the stronger, in which case I shall set myself 
to do the one act, or that the other motive or set of motives is 
the stronger, in which case I shall set myself to do the other. 
But knowing that both motives are such as I am familiar with, 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 235 

and knowing further that both are present in my mind at the 
moment, and not knowing which is the stronger, or, if I happen 
to know which is the stronger now, not knowing which will 
have emerged as the stronger by the time when I act, the only 
reasonable belief for me to hold is that I am capable of doing 
either of the two acts. 

Now if in the end I do the right act, then, if the defence of 
Determinism which I have put forward is sound, my doing the 
right act implies that, just before I did, it, conditions which 
made it necessary for me to do it were present, and similarly my 
doing the wrong act, if I do that, implies that conditions which 
made it necessary to do that act were present. If the one act was 
objectively, in the precise circumstances, possible for me, the 
other was not; and if the other was possible, the first was not. 
Yet all the conditions which ever justify the assertion of possi- 
bility wefe present justifying the judgement that both acts were 
possible for me. For what are the conditions that justify the 
judgement that A may happen? A judgement of possibility 
may be of three kinds. It may be a judgement of the form A 
may be the case here and now', or of the form 'A may have 
happened in the past', or of the form 'A may happen in the 
future*. We need not trouble ourselves with any consideration 
of the first two types, for it is clearly the third that is relevant 
to the consideration of free will. Now the one essential condi- 
tion needed to justify the judgement 'A may happen* is that I 
do not know of any circumstance which makes the happening 
of A impossible. If the general argument I have offered for 
Determinism is true, there is no such thing as possibility in 
rerum natura. If certain conditions are present, certain things 
will happen, and no alternative to them will happen; if certain 
other conditions are present, certain other things will happen, 
and no alternative to them will happen. Possibility is always 
related to a judger, and to say 'so-and-so may happen* is just 
to say 'I don't know that it won't*. Now it often happens that 
I don*t know that A will happen, and don*t know that it won't. 
Then I am entitled to say that A may happen and may not 



236 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

happen. Now this is actually the position we are in with regard 
to the acts of any other person. We may have watched him in 
a hundred similar situations in the past and seen him always 
behave in one way, and we may therefore think it much more 
likely that he will behave in way A than in way B\ but though 
the circumstances seem just alike to us, they may seem different 
to him; or his character may have improved since the last 
similar situation occurred to him, or it may have got worse; 
and it is the literal truth that we can neither say that he will do 
act A nor that he will do act B, but can only say that he may do 
either. And we are, in principle, in the same situation with 
regard to our own future acts, and even with regard to our acts 
in the immediate future. We can see that the situation is never 
exactly like any in which we have been in the past. It may be 
like in that our relation to one person who forms part of the 
situation is just like the relation in which we have stood to some 
person in the past, but it practically never happens that the 
whole set of people who enter into the situation is related to us 
just like the whole set of people who entered into previous 
situations we have been in, and therefore we cannot infer that 
because we behaved in way A in the past we shall behave in 
way A now. Again, we may feel convinced that at the moment 
the motives inclining us to do act A are stronger than any 
inclining us to do any alternative act. But all motives or desires 
are subject to a constant alternating weakening and strengthen- 
ing; we are perfectly familiar with the fact that a desire which 
at its inception is strong weakens as its novelty wears off. 
Then so long as any interval, however short, separates the 
present moment from that at which the act will be done, we do 
not know what the relative strength of the different motives 
will be when the latter moment arrives; and therefore do not 
know what we shall do, though we may of course think it 
highly probable that we shall do a certain act rather than any 
other. 

Thus the logical precondition of my saying 'I can either do 
my duty or fail to do it* is always present. But merely not 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 237 

knowing that A will not happen is not a sufficient psychological 
precondition of my judging that A may happen. I should be 
logically justified in saying, 'Mr. Chamberlain may make Sir 
Stafford Cripps his next Minister of Labour*. But I should not 
be likely to form this judgement unless I knew or thought, for 
instance, that Mr. Chamberlain had socialistic leanings; unless 
I knew or thought that there was something in Mr. Chamber- 
lain's psychology which might lead to such an act. Such a 
psychological precondition of the judgement 1 can either do 
my duty or not do it' is in fact present. For I know that the 
desire to do my duty is a desire that has a certain strength in me, 
and I also know that other desires which if followed would lead 
me not to do my duty have a certain strength in me, so that the 
possibility of my doing my duty is not (as we sometimes put 
the matter) a mere logical or abstract possibility, but a very 
real one, .and the possibility of my not doing it is also such a 
possibility. Thus both the logical and the psychological condi- 
tion of my making the judgement are present. Or, as we may 
also pat it, it is not merely possible, but has an appreciable 
probability, that I shall do my duty, and it is not merely 
possible, but has an appreciable probability, that I shall not do 
it. Therefore the judgement 1 may either do my duty or not 
do it' is fully justified. 

The thought 'I can do my duty' has also a further justifica- 
tion. The practical utility of a belief is never, indeed, a sufficient 
reason for holding that belief. If I did not on other grounds 
think that I can do my duty, the thought that I should be more 
likely to do my duty if I believed I could do it would not lead 
me to believe that I could; and if it did, the belief would be 
unjustifiable, since there would be no logical connexion between 
the psychological cause of the belief and the belief itself. But if 
a belief is on other grounds justifiable, the fact that keeping the 
belief in our minds would have good results is a good reason 
for keeping the belief in our minds. Now I have tried to show 
that the belief that we can do our duty is on its own merits 
justified. I certainly do not know that I shall not do my duty, 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

and I know that there is in me a motive, viz. sense of duty, 
which makes it appreciably probable that I shall do it. And the 
keeping of this belief before my mind will in fact make it more 
likely that I shall do my duty. Consider the effect of holding 
the opposite belief. Suppose I believed that I could not do my 
duty; then I should be thinking, in effect, this: Though the 
act is the right one in the circumstances, and one which a better 
man ought to do, yet since I can't do it there is no use in my 
trying to do it/ I should resign the struggle, and do the act 
which most appealed to me on other grounds. But if I keep 
before me the thought 'that is the right thing to do, and I don't 
know of anything that makes it impossible for me to do it, and 
do know of something, viz. the sense of duty in me, which 
makes it appreciably probable that I shall do it', the wish to do 
my duty is kept alive and allowed to have its full weight in 
determining my action. f 

It is true that the thought 'it is possible for me not to do my 
duty* is equally justified logically, and that this also is not a 
mere idle or abstract possibility, since I know there are motives 
in me inclining me to do something other than my duty. And 
it might at first sight seem that this thought would have as 
great a tendency to depress us and damp down our moral 
activity as the complementary thought 'it is possible for me to 
do my duty' has to intensify our moral activity, and would 
simply neutralize the effect of the latter. This, however, is far 
from being the case. The joint thought 'it is possible that I 
shall, and possible that I shall not, do my duty', which is 
the thought that the facts of the case justify, is precisely that 
which is most favourable to the doing of our duty when the 
time comes. If we felt certain that we should do it, that would 
simply encourage us to take things too much for granted and 
to neglect the concentration on the thought of duty which 
alone will secure our doing it when the time comes. If we felt 
certain that we should not do it, that again would discourage 
us from paying any attention to the thought of duty. The 
recognition that we may either do or not do our duty is just 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 239 

that which is needed to induce us to keep our moral armour in 
the best possible repair. 

I may illustrate this by a homely analogy. Of the candidates 
in an examination, those who are most likely to make the 
needed effort are neither those who feel sure that they will pass 
nor those who feel sure that they will fail, but those who know 
that they do not know whether they will pass or fail. And 
similarly the thought that it is possible that I shall do what is right 
and also possible that I shall do what is wrong is precisely that 
which is most conducive to my exercising that sort of control 
over my thoughts and desires which is in turn most conducive 
to my doing what is right, provided of course that a wish to do 
what is right is also present. This thought, then, is not only 
true, but one which it is very desirable to keep constantly 
before one's mind. 

Whaj, then, is the difference between the perfectly proper 
statement which I may make 'it is possible that I may presently 
do this, and possible that I may presently do that', and the 
libertarian claim? Possibility is always compossibility. What 
I am saying when I make the above statement is that there are 
no existing conditions known to me with which my doing A is 
incompatible, and none with which my doing B is incom- 
patible; and I probably should not make the statement unless 
I knew some important conditions to be actually present with 
which each action is compatible. What the libertarian says 
is that all the conditions, known and unknown, are compatible 
with my doing the one action, and also with my doing the 
other; and this cannot be true. 

But the phrase 'it is possible that I shall do what is right, and 
possible that I shall do what is wrong* does not do full justice 
to our actual thought when it takes its usual form 'I can do 
what is right', though it expresses part of what that thought 
involves.* I could be content with that phrase only if I thought 
of myself as a mere spectator of the play of forces within my 
mind, as a looker-on at a game between fairly equal sides may 
say 'this side may win, or that side may win'. The fact that the 



240 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

spectator is also the agent makes the actual situation different. 
We say not merely 'I may do right, and I may do wrong 1 , but 
1 can do right, and I can do wrong*. What exactly does this 



mean? 



When I say 'I can do this', which I will now use as a brachy- 
logy for 'I can perform this mental activity of self-exertion', 1 
I am not claiming that all the conditions necessary to my doing 
this are already present. If they were, I should be 'doing this', 
whereas the claim 'I can do this* is always made about something 
which one is at least not yet doing, and which perhaps one will 
never in fact do. If I say 'I can do this*, either I am not doing it, 
or at least I suppose I am not doing it, and if so, I cannot be 
supposing that all the conditions necessary to my doing it are 
already present. But I am claiming that some of those condi- 
tions are present, and present in me. I am in fact saying 'certain 
of the conditions of my doing this are already present in me, 
and if certain conditions not yet present are added I shall 
actually do this'. Now sometimes when I say 'I can do this', 
I could specify certain external conditions which must be ful- 
filled if the power is to be translated into act. If I say 'I can 
walk a mile in thirteen minutes', I should if I wanted to be 
more precise say 'I can walk a mile in thirteen mihutes if the 
road is not too uphill, if there is not too strong a wind against 
me, if I am not stopped on the way, if I am not too tired when 
I start', &c. But when 'doing this' is not the effecting of a 
certain bodily movement or set of movements, as walking is, 
but is the purely mental activity of setting oneself to do a 
certain thing, such external conditions are irrelevant. Yet there 
must be some unfulfilled condition of my performing this 
activity of 'setting myself; else I should be doing it, and not 
merely saying 'I can do it'. The general formula must hold 
good, that 'I can do this' is really a hypothetical proposition 
'if a certain condition is added to conditions already present 

1 This alone is in question, since, as I have pointed out (pp. 231-4), the mind's 
control over the body is not what is in question when we are discussing the freedom 
of the will. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 241 

in me, I shall do so-and-so'. And it is easy to see what the 
additional condition must be. It consists of my wishing to do 
this. 1 can do this* means 1 have such a nature that if I want 
to perform the activity of setting myself to do this, I shall per- 
form it'; and 'I can refrain from doing this' means 1 have such 
a nature that if I want to refrain from doing this, I shall refrain 
from doing it 5 . Or, putting it briefly, T can do this or that* 
means C I shall do this if I want, and I shall do that if I want' 
'want' being here a brachylogy for 'want predominantly'. Now 
this claim is absolutely correct. For we have verified in experi- 
ence over and over again two things, (i) that we have a faculty 
of setting ourselves to bring about changes, and (2) that this is 
exercised when we predominantly want to bring about these 
changes. Thus the claim which we instinctively make that we 
can perform either of two (or more) acts of setting ourselves to 
effect changes, seems to be absolutely correct, when we expand 
it to bring out what it really means. But what it points to is 
not the libertarian but the deterministic account; for we clearly 
imply that if the capacity of setting ourselves to effect changes 
has added to it a predominant wish to bring about a certain 
change, the setting oneself to bring it about will necessarily 
follow. 

Suppose it is said that I am whittling away the claim of 
ordinary common sense, by adding the words 'if I want'. Sup- 
pose it is said that the claim is a claim to power not subject to 
this condition. If this were so, the claim would, I think, have to 
take one or other of two forms: (i) 'I can do this whether I 
want or not.' But does any one make this claim ? Does any one 
really think that he could, for instance, set himself to do his 
duty if he did not wish to do his duty? Suppose that some one 
suggests that the motive of a dutiful act is not a wish but the 
emotion of respect or reverence which the thought of duty 
inspires, he will only be substituting a new condition for the 
condition 'if I want' which I have suggested. He will be para- 
phrasing the phrase 1 can do my duty' by the phrase 'I shall do 
my duty if I am sufficiently under the influence of the motive 

4584 D 



242 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

of reverence'. He cannot think that one who says 'I can do my 
duty* is claiming that he can or will do it in the absence of this 
emotion as well as of desire. 

(2) The second possible interpretation is 1 have in me 
already all the necessary conditions of my doing the thing, 
except that of wanting to do it, and I can produce this condi- 
tion*. To this interpretation two fatal objections can be made, 
(a) We do not in the least think that we can produce wishes in 
ourselves by an act of choice, and (3) if this were the right 
analysis of the claim 1 can do act A\ then the right analysis of 
the statement 1 can produce the condition of want' would be 
'I have in me already all the conditions of producing the condi- 
tion of want, except the wish to produce this condition, and I 
can produce this wish'. Thus the claim 'I can do this' would 
involve the claim 'I can produce the wish to do this'; that would 
imply the claim 'I can produce the wish to wish to do this'; and 
so ad infinitum a regress which quite clearly is not involved 
in our simple claim 1 can do this'. 

Thus both the attempts to remove the condition 'if I want' 
fail, and our analysis of the claim *I can do this' remains good 
that it means 1 have in me a general capacity of setting myself 
to do things, and if I want to bring about change A, this 
capacity + this desire will lead to my setting myself to produce 
change A\ And if we thus interpret the claim 'I can do act A\ 
it is strictly true that I can do act A and that I can refrain from 
doing it. Thus the instinctive feeling that we can either do an 
act or refrain from doing it (or do some alternative act) is 
thoroughly justified. But it does not in turn justify the liber- 
tarian account. For it involves the assertion of the determined 
sequence of action on desire. As regards the origin of the 
desire it says nothing, but it certainly does not claim that desire 
is originated by an act of free choice, and in fact we never think 
of our desires as so originated, though we do think of our acts 
as so originated. 

Thus what is claimed in the natural statement *I can either 
do act A or leave it undone' is that my doing or not doing act A 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 243 

depends entirely on myself. And this is in a sense true, because, 
while my effecting change B in my body, and indirectly change 
Cm something beyond my body, depends on conditions in my 
body, and in that thing beyond my body, act A^ being a purely 
mental activity of setting myself to effect changes B and C, 
cannot depend for its occurrence on the extent to which my 
body happens to be under the control of my mind. 

Of course we are not claiming a complete non-dependence of 
our acts of self-exertion on any conditions outside our mind. 
Most, at least, of our wants would never arise if they were not 
suggested to us by the perception of bodies outside us, and this 
is true even of the desire to do certain things as being our duty. 
For it is by the use of our bodily senses (though not by that 
alone) that we become aware of the existence of selves other 
than our own, aijd thus of duties to other selves. The inde- 
pendence that is claimed is the non-dependence of our acts on 
any immediately preceding condition except the general capacity 
of setting ourselves to effect changes, and the wish to effect this 
or theft change both of which are conditions in our mind and 
nowhere else. 

Thus a great deal of what is claimed in the claim to free will 
not only 'the thought that either issue is still possible, but 
the thought that the issue will depend on us, our minds, our 
wishes, not our bodies, nor other minds or bodies, is absolutely 
true, as well as absolutely vital to the moral life. Again, the 
thought that the relative strength of our wishes is not already 
fixed once for all is both true and valuable. But it is a thought 
which a determinist can admit, as well as a libertarian. A deter- 
minist is not in the least bound to say that the effort after self- 
improvement is fruitless. He can admit quite freely that in 
a character that is bad on the whole there may yet be an element 
of desire for better things which, weak at first, may by the 
influence of example and of teaching, and of the effort after 
self-improvement which example and teaching may arouse, 
become the strongest element in the character. 

The controversy between Libertarianism and Determinism is 



244 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

apt to present itself as one in which the metaphysical argument 
is in favour of Determinism and all the ethical arguments in 
favour of Libertarianism. This is far from being the case. It 
seems to me instructive to reflect, in this connexion, on two 
features of the moral situation. The one is our reliance on the 
characters of other people, the reliance implied in the use of 
such words as 'trustworthy'. The other is our attitude when 
people surprise us by their behaviour. The reliance which we 
place on the decent behaviour of people whom we know and 
trust is so much evidence that we think that their actions, when 
they come to be done, are the result not of a will acting inde- 
pendently of their present character, but of the same continuing 
character which we have seen at work before. We are in no 
way detracting from the moral status of our friend if we say 1 
knew you could be trusted to do the right thing*. 'Know* is no 
doubt an exaggeration; for every heart has its secrets which no 
one knows, and the friends we know best may have their secret 
weakness which no former situation has revealed but which a 
new one will. But a confidence amounting almost to certainty 
is a tribute to our friend's moral worth, not a detraction from 
it; yet it is not compatible with the libertarian's view that any 
one may at any moment make a choice which is quite inde- 
pendent of his whole pre-existing character. 

Again, if some one behaves, for better or for worse, in a way 
different from that which we had confidently expected, what is 
our reaction to this? We do not put down the unexpected act 
to the credit or discredit of an unmotived choice. We always 
assume that there must have been, before the act, some existing 
but hitherto unknown trait of character which has now, perhaps 
for the first time, manifested itself in act. In our reaction to 
people's unexpected behaviour, no less than in our expectation 
of their behaviour, we betray the conviction that action is the 
result of continuing, even if constantly modified, character. 

Another feature of our ordinary moral thought which really 
harmonizes better with the deterministic than with the liber- 
tarian account is the importance for good or evil which we 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 245 

attach to the formation of habits. We all think that if we re- 
peatedly behave in a certain way we shall make it more likely 
that we shall go on behaving in that way, and more difficult for 
ourselves to behave otherwise. An attempt may be made to 
harmonize this with Libertarianism by saying that habits 
'incline without necessitating 1 . But to describe them thus is to 
imply that a habit becomes one of the influences which operate 
on the will; and this is inconsistent with the thought of a 
transcendental will standing apart from the formed character 
and free to operate independently of it. The thought that 
habits incline without necessitating is in itself perfectly correct. 
It is simply one way of expressing the fact that a habitual ten- 
dency to behave in a certain way forms one element, and an 
important element, in the total character from which future 
action will spring, while yet there may coexist with it some 
other efement which may prove stronger; some long un- 
fulfilled but not extinguished longing after good which, 
brought to the surface by some feature of a new situation, may 
overcome a bad habit, or some lingering weakness which may 
lead us to yield to a new temptation though we have overcome 
many others. The thought of habits as inclining without 
necessitating, which is the true way of thinking of them, is also 
the most salutary, since it frees us from the despair which 
would overtake us if we thought of bad habits as completely 
necessitating, and from the carelessness that would come over 
us if we thought of them as leaving us as free to do well as we 
were before their formation. 

I may add that the judgements which we make about the 
characters of other people (or about our own characters), in 
distinction from judgements about particular acts, imply the 
view that action is determined by character. For our judge- 
ments abput character are mostly 1 based on observation of 
actions, and we are justified in drawing inferences from people's 
actions to their characters only if their actions flow from their 

1 Only mostly, because some judgements about character are based on observation 
of the expression on people's faces, their gestures, &c. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

characters. When we call a man a bad man we do not mean 
that he is a man who has done more bad acts than good (for 
that might be equally true of a reformed sinner), but that he 
still has substantially the same character which was evidenced 
by bad acts in the past and may be expected to be evidenced by 
more in the future. In fact Libertarianism is inconsistent with 
belief in the continuity of human character; but our actual 
moral judgements are evidence that we do believe in its con- 
tinuity, though we think it a continuity that admits of modifica- 
tion for better or for worse. 

I am far from contending that the whole of our ordinary 
thought about moral action is reconcilable with the doctrine of 
Determinism. But it is worth while to point out that it is by no 
means true that all the arguments drawn from the moral con- 
sciousness tell in favour of Libertarianism, and only the meta- 
physical argument tells in favour of Determinism. * 

If my line of argument is right, we must find the uniqueness 
of moral behaviour not in freedom from the general law of 
causation, but in the unique character of the activities which 
constitute such behaviour the activity of choosing or decid- 
ing, and the activity of setting oneself to do what one has de- 
cided to do, to which there is no analogy in the behaviour of 
any physical thing; and in the further fact, to which there is 
nothing analogous in the behaviour of a mere animal, that one 
of the thoughts under whose influence one can choose and set 
oneself to act is the thought of an action as right. 

Besides the 'intuition* of freedom, the other main reason 
which leads people to believe in the freedom of the will is the 
thought of responsibility for our acts, which is involved in the 
facts of remorse, blame, and punishment. These, it might seem, 
are unjustifiable and indeed unintelligible, unless we are really 
free to do either of two or more different acts. We must there- 
fore set ourselves to examine the implications of these things. 
Professor Nicolai Hartmann 1 has argued that of these three 
phenomena, remorse is the one which is most clearly an evidence 

1 Ethik* 673-8 (Eng. tr. iii. 172-8). 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 247 

of free will. Blame and punishment, praise and reward, 
might, he argues, perhaps be explained as devices adopted for 
the encouragement of men to future good acts and their re- 
straint from future bad acts, without involving a genuine 
imputation of freedom; but there can be no such utilitarian 
explanation of the free assignment by a man to himself of 
responsibility for his past acts, and of the accompanying re- 
morse. 

I think it possible that a society which had ceased to 
believe in the responsibility of individuals for their acts might 
retain praise and blame, reward and punishment, as utilitarian 
devices for the encouragement of virtue and the restraint of 
vice. But two comments may be made on this. In the first 
place, I think we should agree that the denial of responsibility 
is not the assumption on which we actually praise and blame, 
reward and punish. Our actual assumption is a belief in re- 
sponsibility. And secondly, we should think it somewhat dis- 
honest to continue to practise praise and blame, reward and 
punishment, if we had lost the belief in responsibility. We 
should be treating people as if they were responsible, when we 
had really ceased to believe that they were. 

I think, 'therefore, that we need not isolate remorse from 
praise and blame, reward and punishment, but should treat all 
alike as involving a belief in individual responsibility. The 
question we must now face is whether this belief is compatible 
with the Determinism which we have been led on other grounds 
to believe in, or whether it involves freedom of indifference. 
I may begin by pointing out that responsibility is always 
divided. Obviously responsibility for results of action can 
never be assigned to one person alone; there are always cir- 
cumstances (and these will usually include acts by other people) 
which co-operate to produce the result, of whose complete 
cause one person's act is merely the most striking part. But it 
is also true that responsibility for acts is divided. It is never 
right to assign to one person the sole credit or the sole dis- 
credit for any of his acts. Other people by teaching and 



2 4 8 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

example, the writers of the books he has read, and so on, have 
all helped to mould his character into that form of which his 
action is the expression. But it is equally certain that the sole 
responsibility for any act can never be assigned to any person 
or persons other than the doer of the act. For acts spring from 
opinion and desire, and there is no possibility of forcibly im- 
planting either an opinion or a desire in the mind of another. 
No opinion or desire will find a lodgement in his mind unless 
his mind accepts it, or rather responds to suggestion with a 
reaction which is all his own. 

To recognize, then, that people and things other than the 
agent have been part causes of his act may be ground for miti- 
gating the severity of our blame or the enthusiasm of our 
praise, but it is never in itself sufficient ground for withdrawing 
praise or blame from him altogether. Other people, and out- 
side circumstances, have never been more than part causes of 
his act; the act is the reaction of his character to them, and his 
character is partly responsible. 

Mr. Wisdom has suggested 1 that there is one and only one 
way in which a belief in responsibility can be reconciled with a 
belief in the law of causation. If the individual soul, he argues, 
is regarded as having been called into being, at the moment of 
conception, either by the act of its parents, or by the act of 
God, then all its subsequent acts are in the long run determined 
by events entirely beyond its own control, viz. the events that 
happened before it began to exist. But if it has existed from all 
eternity, then all its acts may be regarded as determined by 
previous conditions of which acts of its own formed some part, 
and its partial responsibility for all it does is thus preserved. 

A belief in the eternal pre-existence of the soul no doubt has 
much to commend it on other grounds. Not only moral con- 
siderations, but our whole way of thinking of the soul, involve 
that the soul is something other than a succession of its states 
and acts, that it is something that has these states and does these 
acts; in other words, that it is a substance. Memory implies the 

1 In Mind and Matter, 122-30. 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 249 

thought, and if it is ever itself a form of knowledge it then 
implies the knowledge, that the very self which remembers also 
had the experience which it remembers, and thus establishes 
the existence of a soul-substance lasting as far back from the 
present as the earliest experiences we can remember. And if 
we grant the existence of a soul-substance going so far into the 
past as this, the belief in its infinite pre-existence is at least no 
harder to accept than any of its alternatives. The alternatives 
seem to be (i) the emergence of the soul from purely physical 
antecedents, or (2) its emergence by emanation or fission from 
some other soul or souls either those of die parents or that 
of God, or (3) its creation by God out of nothing. Can we 
seriously accept any of these alternatives? Emergence by 
fission seems to be the only one of the three that is not in- 
credible; and it plainly has difficulties of its own. Furthermore, 
it should be clear that pre-existence is the hypothesis that goes 
best with the belief in immortality. 

There is thus a great deal to be said, on general grounds, for 
the btelief in the eternal pre-existence of the soul. But it is 
evident that there are great difficulties in the attempt to under- 
stand how and why an eternally existing soul comes to inhabit 
this or that 'embryo organism. And, further, it appears to me 
that, while the doctrine of pre-existence gives a sort of juridical 
justification of responsibility, in the sense that it leaves the 
individual with a part-responsibility for all his acts, which he 
cannot shift on to any one but himself, it is only a juridical 
justification that it gives, and not one that answers to or 
accounts for our natural thought about responsibility. 

What would be the natural reply of one who wants to assert 
the responsibility of the individual, to the suggestion that an 
eternally pre-existent soul can be responsible while a non- 
eternal soul cannot? I think he would say that at two points 
the suggestion fails to satisfy him. The eternally pre-existing 
soul had no opportunity of choosing its own character ab 
initiQ) any more than a non-eternal soul can have had one; 
there never was a time at which a characterless soul chose to 



250 INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 

become a soul of a certain character, for the eternally existing 
soul has always had a character, and its choice of how it should 
develop must have been limited by the character it already had. 
It is true that it cannot blame God or its parents for any badness 
there may be in its character, but will it not instead blame the 
nature of things, which has prevented it from ever having a 
completely free choice of character? But further, even if Mr. 
Wisdom could allow that the eternal soul had sometime in the 
past had a free choice of character, its character at each moment 
thereafter is inherited from its past, and its character at each 
moment determines its action at that moment, while what our 
natural thought craves for is some element in the self which can 
at any moment act contrary to the character it inherits from its 
past can act, as it is sometimes expressed, in the line of greatest 
resistance. Thus the pre-existence of the soul really does 
nothing to remove the reluctance which our natural thought 
has to accepting a deterministic theory. It is not without 
significance that the Eastern religions which believe in eternal 
pre-existence are more fatalistic and less inclined to Assert 
individual responsibility than the Christian religion, which, in 
its orthodox form at least, does not believe in eternal pre- 
existence. 

This attempt to reconcile responsibility with Determinism 
can, then, hardly be deemed successful. And, holding fast to 
Determinism, I am inclined to think that the only account we 
can give of responsibility is this: that bad acts can never be 
forced on any one in spite of his character; that action is the 
joint product of character and circumstances and is always 
therefore to some extent evidence of character; that praise and 
blame are not (though they serve this purpose also) mere utili- 
tarian devices for the promotion of virtue and the restraint of 
vice, but are the appropriate reactions to action which is good 
or is bad in its nature just as much if it is the necessary con- 
sequence of its antecedents as it would be if the libertarian 
account were true; that in blaming bad actions we are also 
blaming and justifiably blaming the character from which they 



INDETERMINACY AND INDETERMINISM 251 

spring; and that in remorse we are being acutely aware that, 
whatever our outward circumstances may have been, we have 
ourselves been to blame for giving way to them where a person 
of better character would not have done so. I cannot pretend 
that this satisfies the whole of our natural thought about re- 
sponsibility, but I think that in claiming more, in claiming that 
a moral agent can act independently of his character, we should 
be claiming a metaphysical impossibility. 

A philosophical genius may some day arise who will succeed 
in reconciling our natural thought about freedom and respon- 
sibility with acceptance of the law of causality; but I must 
admit that no existing discussion seems to be very successful in 
doing so. The most recent elaborate discussion known to me, 
that by Professor N. Hartmann, while it does justice to the 
strength of the case for Libertarianism, shows little appreciation 
of the strength of the case for Determinism. 1 

1 There is in Mind, xliii (1934), 1-27, a very persuasive attempt by Mr. R. E. Hobart 
to show that, quite apart from metaphysical considerations, our natural thought about 
moral Questions implies a belief in Determinism. He is, I think, rather sanguine in 
believing that he has shown the whole controversy about free will to be based on 
confusions; but I do not know of any better exposition of the extent to which our 
moral thought involves the belief that actions are the expression of, and flow neces- 
sarily from, a definitely characterized and continuing though modifiable self. 



XI 
THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

'nr'HERE are two reasons which make it necessary for any 
JL student of ethics to devote attention to the nature of 
goodness. One is that we habitually think of certain kinds of 
disposition and action, and of certain persons, as morally good; 
and we can hardly hope to know clearly what is meant by 
'morally good* unless we know both the nature of goodness in 
general, and what distinguishes moral goodness from any other 
form of goodness. The other is that a great part of our duty 
indeed, according to a widely accepted theory, the whole of 
our duty is to bring what is good into existence. Even if we 
reject that theory it must be admitted that where no special duty 
such as that of promise-keeping is involved, our duty is just to 
produce as much good as we can. 

The first thing that strikes us in examining the meaning of 
the word 'good' is the very wide variety of things to which we 
apply the name. We apply it to persons, to their characters, to 
their actions, to their dispositions, to tools and machines, to 
works of art, to states of affairs; and the suspicion naturally 
arises that we cannot be using the word in the same sense in all 
this variety of applications. Not that the variety of the things 
to which we apply it necessarily involves a variation in the 
meaning in which we use it; for a word like 'animaT, for 
instance, is applicable to very various things, ranging from 
Julius Caesar and Shakespeare to the amoeba, and yet in calling 
any of them an animal we are using 'animal* in a single sense, 
i.e. as standing for a certain very general type of structure and 
life, which admits of great variety in detail. But there are 
certain cases in which, on comparing two different applications 
of a word, we can see that the word cannot mean the same in 
both cases. Thus we may speak of a horse as being fast, and 
we may also speak of a movement as being fast, but we see that 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 253 

while the horse is fast in the sense that it moves a relatively 
great distance in a relatively short time, a movement is fast not 
in this sense (for a movement does not move), but in the sense 
that it is the moving over a great distance in a short time. 
Aristotle generalized this consideration into the doctrine that 
when any term is applied to things in more than one category, 
it must have different meanings in these different categories; 
and he considered that 'good' is a case in point, since it can be 
applied to substances, qualities, quantities, relations, actions, 
passivities, times, and places. 1 It does not seem to me that his 
general doctrine is justified. It would seem, for instance, that 
certain times and places might both be good in the single sense 
that it is useful for certain human purposes that certain events 
should take place at them. And in any case from the mere 
variety of the things to which a term is applicable, even where 
the variety amounts to a difference of category, it cannot safely 
be inferred that the term itself must have different meanings. 
Yet the example of 'fast* has shown us that sometimes the appli- 
catioft of a term to things in different categories is possible only 
in virtue of the term's having two meanings. 

When a term is applied to things in different categories, and 
yet there is some connexion between its meanings in these 
different applications, and not a mere chance using of the same 
noise in entirely unconnected meanings, Aristotle suggests that 
the relation of the different meanings may be either that they 
are derived from one single central meaning, or that the things 
called good contribute to one end, or that there is an analogy 
between the different meanings. 2 He does not expand these 
alternatives at all, but I think we may take the first alternative 
as particularly suggestive. In our instance of 'fast', the relation 
between the two meanings is that both are connected with the 
covering of a great distance in a short time, a horse being fast 
because it does this, and a movement fast because it is this. 
And it would seem likely that the relation of the meanings of 
the word 'good' when we apply it to men, to characters, and to 

1 Eth. Nic. 1096 a 17-29. 3 Ibid 



254 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

actions or emotions, is of the same order. But it is much 
harder to be sure of this in the case of a term like 'good', which 
in one of its senses at least seems to be unanalysable, than in the 
case of a term like 'fast', which is always analy sable in terms of 
an interval covered and of the time taken to cover it. We can 
analyse the meaning of 'fast* in its two applications, and see 
that the definitions which unfold its meaning in the two case? 
are different but connected in a definite way. We cannot do 
that with 'good 5 , or at least it is not initially clear that we can. 
The Oxford English Dictionary very judiciously gives as its 
primary definition of 'good' 'the most general adjective of 
commendation, implying the existence in a high, or at least 
satisfactory, degree of characteristic qualities which are either 
admirable in themselves or useful for some purpose'. Probably 
no more definite account than this will cover the whole variety 
of the applications of the word. Probably the only universal 
precondition of our using the word is the existence of a favour- 
able attitude in ourselves towards the object. And this may give 
rise in some minds to the thought that what we are asserting of 
the object is that it is the object of such a favourable attitude 
which would at once imply that 'good' is a relational term, 
signifying that there is a certain relation between the object 
and him who judges it to be good. To correct this, it may be 
enough to refer to a point made by Meinong, and thus sum- 
marized by one of his expositors: 

'Language serves a double function : it expresses our states of mind 
and it means or refers to the objects of those states of mind. A man 
who utters the words "red" or "blue" gives expression to a peculiar 
inner experience through which he is living, but he is not meaning 
or referring to this experience. He is talking about certain properties 
which can only be manifested in extended objects/ 1 

'If I make use of the word "sun", I am, whether I wisfr it or not, 
giving expression (Ausdruck) to the particular mental process called 
an idea, to the fact that, either in perception or imagination, some- 

1 J, N. Findlay, Afcinong's Theory of Objects^ 28; cf. Meinong, Uber Anr\ahmen> 
cd. 2, 24 f. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 155 

thing is being set before my mind. But at the same time, in so far as 
I express this idea, I also refer to a certain physical object, namely 
the sun, and this reference to the sun is the meaning (Bedeutung) of 
the word. If a person hears me use the word "sun" he can take this 
word as a sign of a certain idea in my mind, whose existence he can 
infer with high probability. But it is perfectly plain, as Meinong 
points out, that this idea is not what I mean when I speak of the sun; 
unless I am introspecting, and attempting to examine the mental 
states which accompany my use of words, nothing can be farther 
from my thoughts than my own ideas. What I am concerned with, 
what I am referring to, is an extended physical object millions of 
miles away, which does not resemble my mental processes and 
stands in no real relation to anything in my mind/ 1 

In the same way what we express when we call an object good 
is our attitude towards it, but what we mean is something about 
the object itself and not about our attitude towards it. When 
we call an object good we are commending it, but to commend 
it is not to say that we are commending it, but to say that it has 
a certain character, which we think it would have whether we 
were commending it or not. 

What then is the characteristic which we ascribe to some- 
thing when we call it good ? I do not think that there is any one 
characteristic which we are ascribing wherever we call some- 
thing good. What unites all our applications of the word is not 
a single connotation of 'good', but this single type of attitude, 
the favourable attitude, which we are always expressing^ the 
meanings of 'good' itself being very various. To bring out this 
variety, I think it useful first to distinguish the adjective or 
attributive use of the word from its predicative use, i.e. the 
usage in which we say 'a good so-and-so' from that in which 
we say 'so-and-so is good'. When we say 'a good-so-and-so', 
what we are ascribing to something is 'goodness of its kind'; 
and this has various meanings according as we are speaking of 
(i) a person or of (2) a thing. I venture to quote here some 
sentences from a previous discussion by myself. 

1 Findlay, op. cit. 61. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

'In case (i) the root idea expressed by "good" seems to be that of 
success or efficiency. We ascribe to some one a certain endeavour, 
and describe him as a good so-and-so if we think him comparatively 
successful in this endeavour. It might be thought that in certain 
cases (e.g. "a good singer' 1 , " a good doctor") another idea is in our 
minds, viz. that the person in question ministers to our pleasure, 
or to our health in general to the satisfaction of some desire of 
ours. But our pleasure or our health comes in only incidentally in 
such cases; it comes in just because the endeavour we are imputing 
to the person in question is the endeavour to give us pleasure or to 
improve our health. It does not, therefore, it would appear, form 
part of the general connotation of "good" when thus used. We can 
in this same sense call a man "a good liar", not because he contri- 
butes to the satisfaction of any of our desires, but because we think 
him successful in what he sets out to do. 

'In case (2) there appear to be various elements included in what 
we mean by "good". We seem to mean in the first place (a) "minis- 
tering to some particular human interest". A good knife is essenti- 
ally one that can be successfully used for cutting, a good poem one 
that arouses aesthetic pleasure in us. But there is also here () the 
notion that the thing in question is one in which the maker of it has 
successfully achieved his purpose a notion which might be called 
the "passive" counterpart of the notion explained under (i). As a 
rule both the notions (a) and () appear to be involved in our appli- 
cation of "good" to anything other than persons; but sometimes 
the one and sometimes the other predominates. There is, however, 
(c) a third element, less seriously intended, in our application of 
"good" to non-persons. When we speak of a good lie or of a good 
sunset we are half-personalizing lies and sunsets and thinking of this 
particular lie or sunset as succeeding in that which all lies or sunsets 
are trying to achieve; i.e. we are, not quite seriously, transferring to 
non-persons the meaning of "good" appropriate to persons.' 1 

I think it is clear that this adjunctive use of 'good' has no 
importance for ethics. The meanings that are important for 
ethics are that in which we say 'such-and-such a man is good', 
meaning 'morally good', and that (or those) in which we say 
(rightly or wrongly) 'virtue is good', 'knowledge is good', 

1 The Right and the Good, 65-6. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 257 

'pleasure is good*. It is obviously very important for ethics to 
discover which of such statements as these three are true, 
because we have agreed that one of our main duties is to pro- 
duce as much that is good as possible, and we can attach no 
concrete meaning to this till we have discussed what things are 
good in this specially important sense. We may agree that 
what we are ascribing to things when we call them merely 
good of their kind is something that can be defined in a 
purely naturalistic way, by reference to human wishes and 
their fulfilment; the question remains whether 'good' in 
its predicative sense can be so defined, or indeed can be 
defined at all. 

Of the predicative applications of 'good', it seems to me that 
we can distinguish three main types, (i) There is first the 
sense in which a hedonist might say that virtue is good. He 
does not think that virtue is good in itself, for he thinks that 
pleasure alone is this. He means that virtue is useful as a means 
to something that is good in itself. Here we have already come 
to something that, on the face of it, cannot be defined in a 
purely naturalistic way. One element of our definition, that in 
which we use the phrase 'a means' or some equivalent, is 
naturalistic, 4 since it simply states that there is a causal relation be- 
tween one thing and another thing which is or may be desired. 
But in saying that virtue is a means to something good in itself, 
we are including a non-naturalistic element in our definition. 

I do not wish to call the usage of 'good' as equivalent to 
'a means to good' improper. It is a perfectly sound idiomatic 
use of the word. But it is clearly to be distinguished from the 
sense of 'good' as 'good in itself or 'intrinsically good' or 
'good apart from its results', and it will be better, in speaking 
or writing philosophy, not to say 'good' when we mean 'useful 
as a means to what is good in itself, but to use this phrase or an 
equivalent. 

But what is good in itself may be so in either of two senses* 
(2) We may call something which has both good elements, 
and bad or indifferent elements, good in itself, when we think 
4584 s 



i 5 8 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

the good elements outweigh the bad ones. Or (3) we may call 
something good, meaning that it is good through and through. 
Professor Moore calls things of the first kind intrinsically good, 
and those of the second both intrinsically and ultimately good. 1 
Phrases which would more clearly indicate the difference are 
the phrases 'good on the whole 1 and 'good through and 
through'. Only things that are good through and through will 
be good in the strictest sense of the word, and the questions I 
want to address myself to are ( i ) what is the nature of that which 
we are ascribing when we say of something that it is good in 
this sense, and (2) what are the things that are good in this 
sense. These questions have to be to some extent considered 
together. Under the first question I want to consider in parti- 
cular what category goodness of this sort comes under. Is it a 
quality? Is it a relation ? Is it a relational property? Or does 
it form a separate category from any of these? Or does it with 
any other characteristic or characteristics form a category other 
than those named? 

In my book The Right and the Good 2 I have discussed at 
length the view that goodness is a relation or a relational 
property, and in particular Professor Perry's view that what we 
say of a thing when we say that it is good is that it is an object 
of interest to some one or other. I believe that in its essence 
the argument I have offered is right. In particular, it seems 
to me quite clear that there are many things which we know 
to be objects of interest to many people but yet unhesitatingly 
describe as bad. And further it seems to me clear that when, 
for instance, we describe a conscientious or a benevolent action 
as good we are ascribing to it a characteristic that we think it has 
in itself, apart from the reaction of any one to it. 

Suppose that we deny that certain moral qualities, such as 
conscientiousness or benevolence, have a characteristic of 
goodness which is independent of any one's reaction to them, 
what then are we really affirming about goodness? One or 
other of three things: (i) that goodness is properly defined as 

1 Ethics, 7$-6. * pp. 75-104. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 259 

the being the object of a certain kind of reaction, (2) that things 
that are good have goodness in consequence of being the objects 
of a certain kind of reaction, or (3) that there is no such thing as 
goodness at all, the only relevant fact being just the fact that 
certain things are the objects of a favourable reaction. 

On the first view, it is asserted that what we mean when we 
call certain states of mind good is just that they are the objects 
of a favourable reaction. Now I think it is clear that we have 
not this meaning in mind when we normally use the word 
'good'. When we call a state of mind good we are thinking of 
the state of mind itself, and not of our or of any one's reaction 
to it. Yet it must be admitted that we often use terms not quite 
unintelligently, and yet without realizing precisely what we are 
thinking of. This admission seems to me to be required by the 
fact that we sometimes search for the definition of a term, and 
accept a certain definition as correct. We should not be search- 
ing for the definition if we already knew precisely the meaning 
of the term; but the fact that we accept a certain definition as 
correct shows that we think the definition expresses more 
clearly the very thing that we had in mind when we used the 
term without knowing its definition. Thus the fact that we 
have not our own reaction, or any one's reaction, distinctly in 
mind, when we use the word 'good', is not sufficient evidence 
that that is not its true definition. The correctness of a defini- 
tion may be tested by two methods: (i) by asking whether the 
denotation of the term and that of the proposed definition are 
the same, whether the definition applies to all things to which 
the term applies, and to no others. But that is not enough. 
'Equilateral triangle' and 'triangle having all its angles equal' 
have exactly the same denotation, but the one is not a correct 
definition of the other, since what we mean when we call a 
triangle equilateral is not that its angles are equal but that its 
sides are equal. We must therefore ask a second question, (ii) 
'does the definition express explicitly what we had implicitly in 
mind when we used the term ?' We may apply this double test 
to any proposed relational definition of goodness. Most of the 



26o THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

relational views fail to survive either test. For we may divide 

them according as they identify goodness with being the object 

of a favourable reaction (a) by some one or other, no matter by 

whom, () by the person who judges something to be good, 

(c) by a majority of some class of mankind, (J) by the whole of 

some class of mankind, (e) by a majority of men, or (/) by all 

men. 1 Now as regards (a), it is clear that we sometimes deny 

something (say hatred) to be good, or doubt whether it is ever 

good, when we do not doubt that some one or other has had 

a favourable reaction to it; so that the definition fails to satisfy 

the first test, and must therefore fail to satisfy the second as 

well. As regards (), it may be admitted that this definition 

satisfies the first test. No one judges anything to be good 

unless he has a favourable reaction to it, and it might be possible 

to specify a particular favourable reaction say approval 

which we never have without judging the object to be good. 

But this definition fails to satisfy the second test. For while the 

favourable reaction is what the judgement 'this is good' 

expresses (to use Meinong's language), it is not what it asserts. 2 

That this is so can be most easily seen from the fact that if this 

were what the judgement asserts, then two people of whom one 

says 'this is good 5 and the other says 'this is bad' Would not be 

contradicting each other, since it might be true both that A 

approves of the object and that B disapproves of it; whereas it 

is clear that A and B do mean to contradict each other. As 

regards definitions (c) to (/), they fail to satisfy either test. It is 

clear that we often judge an object to be good when we do not 

think that a majority, or the whole, of any class of mankind or 

of mankind itself is feeling an emotion of approval towards it; 

and it is further clear that even if we do sometimes think that 

a majority or the whole of some set of men is approving of 

object 0, that is not what we mean to assert when we say that 

O is good. 

1 These alternatives, and to a large extent my discussion of them, are borrowed 
from Professor Moore's discussion of subjectivist views of the meaning of 'right* 
(Ethics, 87-132). a Cf. pp. 254-5, above. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 261 

It would be possible to try to avoid this objection by modi- 
fying the relational definition of 'good'. We might say that 
'good' means not 'arousing an emotion of approval in so-and- 
so', but 'such as to arouse such an emotion when attended to'. 
This would get over the time-difficulty that attaches to the 
original suggestion, viz. that we constantly describe something 
as good when we have no reason to suppose that the whole or 
a majority of any set of men is even attending to the object in 
question, let alone approving of it. But the new suggestion 
remains open to this objection, that we often call something 
good when quite certainly no thought even of what the whole 
or a majority of any class of beings would feel if it attended to 
the object is even implicitly in our minds. 

Thus it is not in the least plausible to identify goodness 
either with being the object of a favourable emotion or with 
the power to awake a favourable emotion. 1 That is most 
certainly not what we are thinking of either explicitly or even 
implicitly when we call a moral action, for instance, good. 
Now'no one is likely to suggest 2 that the existence of this rela- 
tion between an object and some mind or minds gives rise to a 
quality in the object (distinct from this relation) the name for 
which is goodness. The most plausible form in which the 
relational view could be expressed would be to say 3 that nothing 
possesses the kind of intrinsic characteristic which we ascribe 
to things when we call them good; that some things are, how- 
ever, the actual or possible objects of a favourable emotion, 
and that on the strength of this we mistakenly ascribe to them 
goodness in themselves. To say that would be more plausible 
than trying to persuade us that by 'good' we mean something 
which we plainly do not mean. 

The fact is, however, that it is impossible to approve of any- 
thing without thinking it worthy of approval without thinking 
that it has a goodness of its own which makes it fit to be ap- 
proved. The view that the whole fact is that certain things are 



1 View (i), p. *t*fin. 2 View (2), p. 259. 

3 View (3), p. 2$ 9. 



262 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

approved is one which makes nonsense of approval itself. If 
things were only approved, without anything being worthy of 
approval, the act of approval would simply be nonsensical 
Approval maybe misplaced in detail; the fact that a particular 
person approves a particular thing does not imply that that 
thing is actually worthy of approval; but the fact that we 
approve at all, rightly or wrongly, is the clearest possible 
evidence of a universal conviction that there are some things 
that are worthy of being approved. And disagreement about 
what things are good is just as clear evidence of this conviction 
as agreement about it would be. 

The fact of being approved, then, which the theory we are 
examining seeks to identify with, or to substitute for, goodness, 
is a fact which could not exist apart from the thought that the 
object is worthy of approval, in other words is good in itself. 
And I believe that attention to our state of mind wheh we ex- 
press approval of conscientiousness, say, or of benevolence 
shows that what we really think about them is that they are 
good in themselves. No one can prove that they are, but then 
nothing could be proved unless there were truths which are 
apprehended without proof; and we apprehend that conscien- 
tiousness or benevolence is good with as complete certainty, 
directness, and self-evidence as we ever apprehend anything. 

But there are other things besides moral dispositions and 
actions that we habitually think good; notably the exercise of 
intelligence, and the feeling of pleasure; and the question arises 
whether these are good in the same perfectly objective and 
indefinable way in which good moral dispositions and actions 
are good. I wish to take account in particular of an argument 
by Professor C. A. Campbell 1 to the effect that only moral 
virtue is good in this perfectly objective sense of 'good'. The 
gist of his argument is to suggest that of the goodness of any- 
thing other than moral virtue a relational account can be given. 
He grants, I think, the truth of my criticism of the relational 

1 In Mind, xliv (193 j), 273-99. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 263 

theories which identify goodness with being the object of a 
favourable emotion to the person who judges something to be 
good, or to the whole or a majority of any set of beings. But 
he thinks that a more complicated form of relational account 
can be given of the goodness of intellectual or aesthetic activity. 
His general view is that 'all value judgements other than those 
referring to moral virtue involve an essential reference to 
human liking 5 . 1 He takes as being at least the most important 
things, other than virtue, which we judge to be valuable, 
knowledge and aesthetic experience these words being the 
more exact way of referring to the truth and beauty that are 
named in the familiar trinity of 'goodness, truth, and beauty'. 
He starts by considering 'liking'; and 'liking', as it is described 
by him, seems to stand for the two facts of desiring a thing 
when it is absent, and finding satisfaction or pleasure in it when 
it is present; or more strictly for the having of a relatively 
permanent disposition which leads us to desire something when 
we think of it as a thing we have not got, and to enjoy it when 
we have it. But he admits that not everything that is liked is 
seriously thought of as good for oneself, still less as good for 
man or simply as good. He therefore introduces certain dis- 
tinctions between objects of our liking. The first important 
distinction that he draws is between things liked for themselves 
and things liked as means to things liked for themselves. It is 
obviously only the former that 'have a direct claim to the title 
"value' V an d we therefore tend 'to identify value- for-self not 
with object of any liking of the self, but with object of an 
independent liking of the self'. 2 

The next distinction is one drawn between different 'end- 
values', viz. that between end- values which have also instru- 
mental value and those which have instrumental disvalue; 
health and knowledge being instances of the former, idleness 
and gluttony of the latter. Now since the self, when it has certain 
likings, is conscious that then or at other times it has other 
likings, objects of liking which interfere with other objects of 

1 Ibid. 279. 2 Ibid. 283. 



264 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

liking, more numerous than themselves or the objects of more 
intense liking, come to be objects of dislike on the whole. 
' "Good-for-self" will now mean object not merely of an inde- 
pendent liking, but of an independent and integral liking of the 
self an "integral" liking being definable as one which is sub- 
stantially consistent with the likings of the self as a whole/ 1 

Professor Campbell next points out that a further modifica- 
tion of the meaning of value-for-self arises at the same level of 
self-consciousness as the modification last considered viz. 
that we restrict value-for-self to the objects of likings which are 
(airly permanent as well as independent and integral. But at the 
same time the self becomes aware of the possibility of its 
coming to have likings which it can foresee to be in a high degree 
integral and relatively permanent as well as independent; such 
as a liking for scientific pursuits or for music. The objects of 
such likings, the things we should like to like, are naturally 
therefore also recognized as things good for self. 

So far, Professor Campbell has offered a very persuasive 
account of how an individual may naturally organize info an 
order of importance the objects of his various likings, on the 
ground of their independence, integralncss, and relative per- 
manence; and it is only surprising that he does not assign more 
weight to a characteristic of likings which he sets aside as of 
but slight importance, viz. their intensity. 2 One would have 
thought that that should count for as much, in the establishing 
of the hierarchy, as the characteristics to which he has attached 
weight. 

He next points out that we are aware that other selves have 
their likings, as well as ourselves, and suggests that by inter- 
subjective intercourse we discover what things are independent, 
integral, and relatively permanent objects of liking to other 
men as well as to ourselves, and come to think of the t m as not 
merely good for self, but good for man. And, finally, he holds 
that, having arrived at the conclusion that certain things are 
good for man, we drop the qualification and describe them as 

1 Ibid. * Ibid. 283. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 265 

simply good, and come to think of them as if their goodness 
were intrinsic, i.e. flowed from or were consequent upon their 
own nature, independently of any relation to human likings. 

I have already pointed out the difficulty that arises if we 
identify goodness with the being an object of liking to the 
whole or a majority of mankind or of any class of mankind. 
The difficulty is that we often call particular things particular 
activities of the intelligence or of the imagination good, when 
there is not present, even obscurely in the background of our 
mind, the thought that these particular activities have ever been 
contemplated by, still less been liked by, the whole or a 
majority of mankind or of any class of mankind. Professor 
Campbell tries to get over the difficulty by saying that they are 
thought of as objects of liking to human nature. But this way 
of putting the matter cannot be accepted. Human nature is a 
name for a certain set of powers and dispositions which we 
think of as common to all men. And no such set of powers and 
dispositions likes anything. What has likings is a particular 
man or particular men, and to say that something is an object of 
liking to human nature is only a loose way of saying that it is 
an object of liking to all or most men in virtue of their common 
human nature, or else that it is an object of liking to men in so 
far as they share in a nature which is regarded as normal or ideal 
human nature. Now if the first alternative is adopted, we are 
still faced with the difficulty that many particular things are 
judged good when we have not the slightest reason to believe 
that all or most men are even aware of their existence, still less 
that they like them. And if the second alternative is adopted, 
we are really falling back on the thought that there are certain 
things which, whether they are or are not liked by men, are 
worthy of being liked by them and would be liked by them if 
they hadthe ideal human nature in perfection. But as soon as 
we fall back on the notion that certain things are worthy of 
being liked, we are deserting the purely naturalistic account 
of goodness (other than moral goodness) for which Professor 
Campbell is arguing. 



266 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

It appears to me that Professor Campbell might have put his 
case more plausibly if he had adopted a different line from that 
involved in the use of the phrase 'object of liking to human 
nature'. The most obvious objection to saying that the state- 
ment 'so-and-so is good' means, when made explicit, that so- 
and-so is liked by all or most men, is that we constantly say of 
some particular activity of knowledge or of aesthetic imagina- 
tion that it is good, when we do not think the particular 
activity in question is even being attended to or ever has been 
attended to by all or most men. But it might be suggested that 
in judging it to be good we are really saying that it is an 
instance of a kind of thing which we know or think to be an 
object of liking to all or most men. We know that knowledge, 
or the successful use of the intelligence, is liked by all or most 
men, and we therefore express admiration of a particular 
activity of knowledge or intelligence, though we do not sup- 
pose that all or most men have this particular activity before 
their minds at all. 'Good' in such an application would then 
mean 'instance of a kind of thing which all or most men like 
with an independent, integral, and relatively permanent liking'. 

The question must be asked, however, whether it is a true 
account of what we mean when we say that knowledge is good, 
to say that we mean that it is the object of such a liking to 
human nature. The alternatives must be pressed: to say that 
such-and-such a thing is an object of liking to human nature is 
either a merely historical, statistical statement based on a com- 
parison of the actual likings of particular men, or there is in- 
volved in it an appeal to an ideal human nature. Take the first 
alternative. It must be first remarked that we know nothing 
either of the likings of man in the earliest stages of his evolu- 
tion, or of what his likings will be in stages still to come. All 
that we can say is that there is considerable evidence t{iat all or 
most men, during the period of human history of which we 
know something, have liked, for instance, knowledge. And all 
that we should be justified in saying on the basis of this is that 
within these limits of time knowledge has been good. We 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 267 

should have to admit that there may have been a time at which 
people disliked or were indifferent to knowledge, and that if so, 
knowledge was then bad and ignorance or error was good, or 
else all three were indifferent and that such a time may come 
again in the future. 

One might admit for the sake of argument that many of our 
admirations for particular types of intellectual activity for 
the spinning of particular types of theory, for instance rest 
upon no better basis than this. The individual finds that cer- 
tain theories give him pleasure, and he discovers that most of 
his contemporaries who attend to them also get pleasure from 
them, and on that basis he judges them to be good. The fashion 
may change. One generation likes absolutist theories, another 
likes relativistic theories. One likes monistic theories, another 
likes dualistic or pluralistic ones. But as to the intrinsic prefer- 
ability of knowledge to ignorance and error, of that sort of use 
of the intelligence which notices differences where they exist 
and Identities where they exist, which draws from premisses 
only the conclusions that they warrant, have we not an a priori 
certainty that, whether or not all or most men always have 
liked and always will like these things which we cannot 
possibly know they are intrinsically better than their oppo- 
sites, better worth having, more worthy of admiration, whether 
they receive it or not? And it must surely be admitted that, 
even if we often call one theory or way of thinking better on 
the ground of the actual preference of ourselves or of our 
generation, that which makes it really better, if it is so, is not 
in the least our preference, but its possession of such charac- 
teristics as I have suggested, the recognition of differences and 
of identities where they exist, the drawing of conclusions that 
are warranted by the premisses; in other words, its being of the 
nature o knowledge and not of mere opinion whether true 
or false. 

If, on the other hand, we rest our judgement that certain 
things are good for man not on a historical and statistical study 
of the actual likings of individual men, but on the notion of a 



268 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

normal or ideal human nature, we are really saying of these 
things not that they are liked but that they are worthy of being 
liked, and are worthy of being liked because they are in them- 
selves good. 

Professor Campbell makes two claims for his account: (i) 
that it yields a list of goods for man which in fact agrees with 
the list of intrinsic goods that is suggested by those who adopt 
a non-relational view of goodness, and (2) that it accounts 
better than such a view does for the varieties of opinion that 
are held in different periods and in different communities as to 
what things are good. 

The first of these claims is, I think, justified, and that it 
should be so need not surprise any one who holds the non- 
relational view. For if there are things intrinsically good, and 
if the human mind has the power of apprehending their good- 
ness, just as it has the power of apprehending other aspects of 
reality, it will naturally be satisfied by them when present, and 
attracted by the thought of them when absent, i.e. will Mike' 
them. And our liking for them will have the characteristics of 
the liking whose objects Professor Campbell's view identifies 
with things good for man. The liking for them will of course 
be an independent liking of them, a liking of them for their 
own sakes and not as a means to something else. Further, 
since it depends on an intellectual apprehension of their good- 
ness, it will be a more integral liking than our likings for the 
pleasures of the senses. And for the same reason it will 
depend less on accidents of circumstance and will be a rela- 
tively permanent liking not present always with equal 
strength, nor even present at all when we are absorbed in the 
pleasures or pains of the moment, but present as a permanent 
undercurrent of our interests. And further, since it is a liking 
for certain activities not as being enjoyed by us but r as being 
what they are in themselves, its objects will naturally coincide 
with the things which Professor Campbell describes as being 
goods for man and not merely for self. Thus the coincidence 
between the lists of goods recognized on the relational and on 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 269 

the non-relational view is only what might be expected. In any 
case it cannot possibly furnish an argument for either view 
against the other. 

The second claim is that the relational account explains 
better than the non-relational the varieties in the valuation of 
goods from age to age and from community to community. 
This claim I must resist. The holder of a non-relational view 
is not bound to hold that all the intrinsic goods he believes in 
must always be valued by all men, still less that they must 
always be placed in their true order of value. Here, as else- 
where, varieties of opinion are no indication that there is not 
an objective truth that is there to be apprehended. In the realm 
of natural science, for example, all sensible people agree that 
there is a completely objective truth to be apprehended, but we 
have no difficulty in reconciling this with the fact that different 
ages anjl different communities hold very different opinions. 
Different ages and different communities differ in their degree 
of njental maturity; each age and each community is liable to 
have* prejudices and erroneous presuppositions of its own. To 
one age it seems self-evident that nature abhors a vacuum, and 
that natural species are fixed; to another neither of these pre- 
suppositions gives any satisfaction. It cannot really, I think, 
be contended that there is more variation between the opinions 
of different ages or communities about what things are good, 
than there is between their opinions about matters of natural 
science, where the laws of nature are admittedly objective and 
are unchanging. 

In particular, Professor Campbell is on very dangerous 
ground when he thinks that virtue is intrinsically good and 
that knowledge is not. For surely the variations in the opinions 
of different ages about the ranking of the different virtues is 
more striking than the variations about the ranking of intel- 
lectual activities; and if variation were an argument against 
intrinsic goodness in the latter case it would be at least equally 
so in the former. The truth is that it is not an argument against 
the objective or non-relational view in either case, and that this 



2 7 o THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

view can give as good an account of varieties of opinion as the 
relational view can; I will not claim that it gives a better. 

It seems to me, then, that knowledge, or perhaps we should 
rather say the activity of the mind which leads to knowledge, is 
good, not in the sense that human nature likes having it 
(although in fact most men do like having it), but in the sense 
that it is an admirable activity of the human spirit; that this 
activity owes its excellence not to our liking it, but to its 
being conducted according to its own proper principles, i.e. 
according to the principles discovered by logic; and that 
different instances of this activity are good in proportion as 
they are conducted according to these principles. 

The main other good which Professor Campbell deals with 
is aesthetic experience. I think we should here distinguish 
not that there is not some affinity between the two between 
aesthetic enjoyment and artistic creation. The first is funda- 
mentally a certain kind of pleasure (though it of course pre- 
supposes certain intellectual activities). The second is primarily 
a certain kind of mental activity (though no doubt the artist 
feels pleasure in his own activity). I will therefore reserve any- 
thing I have to say about the former till I come to discuss 
pleasure, and will consider now the creative activity of the 
artist. This, like knowledge, appears to me to be good not in 
the sense that we like it, but in the sense that it is an admirable 
activity of the human spirit; and it owes its goodness to its own 
intrinsic character. The characteristics that are the base or 
foundation of artistic excellence have not been worked out, 
and probably cannot be worked out, with anything like the 
precision with which the conditions of scientific excellence have 
been worked out by logic. Yet in a vague way we have some 
knowledge of the intrinsic features of good artistic work 
vividness and breadth of imagination, vigour of execution, 
economy in the use of means, simplicity of plan. We think 
there is something admirable in these things, and it is for this 
reason that we honour the great artist. We think there is dis- 
played in great art an activity of the human spirit which is 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 271 

admirable for its own sake, just as virtuous actions or the 
triumphs of the scientific mind are. 

When we turn to consider whether, and if so in what sense, 
pleasure is good, we come to what is for me one of the most 
puzzling problems in the whole of ethics. The first point to 
which I would draw attention is that, while for the word 'good* 
when applied to moral dispositions and actions and to intel- 
lectual and artistic activities we can fairly substitute 'admirable' 
or at a lower level 'commendable', we cannot do this in the 
case of pleasant experiences, taken generally. There is nothing 
admirable or commendable in the mere feeling of pleasure. 
Another way in which the difference between good activities 
and pleasure is revealed is that, while we can call a man good, 
or at least admirable (for 'good* as applied to men tends to be 
limited to moral goodness) in respect of his moral actions and 
dispositions and in respect of his intellectual or artistic activi- 
ties^ any goodness that pleasure may be supposed to have is 
not in this way reflected on to its enjoyer. A man is not good 
in respect of the mere fact of feeling pleasure. 

These facts suggest that one of two things must be true 
either that pleasure as such is not good, or that it is good in sortie 
quite different way from that in which good activities are good. 

And there is a further consideration which at least seems to 
point to the first alternative as being the true one. It is often 
assumed that if anything is good, there is an obligation to set 
ourselves to produce it, unless by an alternative act we can pro- 
duce something better; and indeed it is a widely accepted view 
that productivity of good is the only duty. I have given 
reasons for holding that this view is not true that there are 
other principles of duty, viz. that of fulfilling promises, that 
of making reparation for injuries done, and that of making a 
return f<5r goods received* But I accept the principle that if 
something is good there is aprimafacie obligation to produce 
it, and an actual obligation unless some more stringent prima 
facie obligation intervenes. Now there are two types of case in 



272 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

which it seems clear that we are under no prima facie obligation 
to produce pleasure. There are (i) pleasures that are them- 
selves the manifestation of a bad moral nature, such as those of 
cruelty or of lust. It is clear that we not merely feel no prima 
facie obligation to produce them either for ourselves or for 
others. We feel a positive obligation to improve our own 
character, and so far as we can that of others, so as to prevent 
ourselves and them from having such enjoyments. 

Now if this were all, it might be possible to modify the state- 
ment that pleasure' is good, by saying 'pleasures that are not 
manifestations of a bad moral nature are good 5 . But against 
this suggestion a fresh difficulty arises. There are (2) certain 
pleasures which, even when they are not the manifestations of 
a bad moral nature, we feel ourselves under no obligation to 
produce; we feel ourselves under no obligation to produce 
pleasures of any kind for ourselves. We feel ourselves, of 
course, under no obligation not to produce them, except when 
they are manifestations of a bad nature. But we feel ourselves 
under no obligation to produce even innocent pleasures for 
ourselves. That seems to me one of the clearest facts about our 
moral consciousness, though it is constantly overlooked by 
those who maintain both that pleasure as such is good and that 
there is an obligation to produce what is good. 

I should perhaps say something here to substantiate two of 
the statements I have made or implied: (i) that we are con- 
scious of an obligation to produce pleasure for others, and (2) 
that we are not conscious of an obligation to get pleasure for 
ourselves, (i) It is clear that the thought underlying a great 
many conscientious actions is the thought that by these actions 
pleasure will be produced for some one other than the agent. 
Some one might suggest that all that we feel bound to do is to 
refrain from producing pain for others, or to minimize their 
pain; and it is true that we feel these duties more acutely than 
the duty of positively promoting the pleasure of others. But 
it is surely plain, on reflection, that our sense of duty actually 
goes beyond this, and that we feel bound in the same sort of 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 273 

way, though not in the same degree, to maximize pleasure, as 
we feel bound to minimize pain, for others. 

It is true again that much of the conscientious action which 
aims at producing pleasure is not actuated solely by the thought 
that pleasure will be produced for some one else, but also by the 
thought (a) that it will be produced for some one for whose 
well-being one has assumed a special responsibility (e.g. for 
one's children), or (b) that it will be produced for some one who 
has at present less than his due share of pleasure (e.g. for badly 
paid workers, or for sufferers from disease). In such cases 
there is involved (a) the thought of a duty to fulfil a promise, 
or an implicit promise, or () the thought of a duty to establish 
a just distribution of pleasure; and then the sense of a duty to 
produce the pleasure or remove the pain in question is greatly 
intensified. But I think it would on reflection be agreed that 
over and above these special obligations we have the sense of 
a duty to produce pleasure for others, just because it will be 
pleasure for them, and that if we had fulfilled all our promises, 
and if a just distribution of pleasures had already been estab- 
lished, there would still be a duty of going on to increase the 
amount of pleasure to be distributed. 

(2) That'we are conscious of no duty to maximize pleasure 
for ourselves seems to be so clear as not to need argument; and 
perhaps what is needed is rather some explanation of why the 
fact has been so much overlooked in ethical theory; it cer- 
tainly is not overlooked in our natural thinking. The explana- 
tion is, I think, to be found in the history of the origin of 
Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism arose by critical reflection on 
Egoism. Bentham's sense of justice revolted against the mon- 
strously privileged position which Egoism enjoined each 
individual to assign to his own pleasure, in his choice of action; 
but in revolting against a current system he made the mistake 
which has been repeated over and over again in the history of 
philosophy, the mistake of not questioning drastically enough 
the tenets of the current system. While asserting that the 
individual should aim at the pleasure of others, it seems not 

4584 



274 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

to have occurred to him to doubt the genuineness of the one 
obligation that Egoism had allowed. And the very method 
which he adopted for converting egoists to Utilitarianism, 
and which no doubt seemed the most hopeful at a time when 
Egoism was in the ascendant that of arguing that it was 
reasonable for them to seek to achieve for others what they 
already sought to achieve for themselves forced him to treat 
pleasure as something intrinsically good, and to ignore the 
very different ethical aspects which his own pleasure and any 
other man's pleasure present to any man. Perhaps only a 
generation for which the view that we should seek only our 
own pleasure is already out of date can see clearly that we are 
under no obligation to pursue our own pleasure at all. 

Of the two types of case in which we are under no obligation 
to produce pleasure, an attempt might be made to explain the 
first without giving tip the view that pleasure as such is good. 
With regard to immoral pleasures, it might be said that they 
are good qua pleasures but bad qua immoral, and that their 
badness qua immoral outweighs their goodness qua pleasant, 
and that that is the reason why we are never bound to produce 
them or aid in their production. To this, one who wishes to 
deny the goodness of pleasure as such might object, ' Yes, but 
supposing such a pleasure were intensely pleasant but only 
slightly immoral, might it not then be our duty, on your show- 
ing, to produce it, since its goodness qua pleasant might well out- 
weigh its badness qua immoral ?' But his opponent would have 
a sound reply. He could say, 'Such a pleasure can be intensely 
pleasant only when it is intensely immoral; a man can enjoy 
cruelty intensely only if he intensely wishes to hurt another/ 
If, however, both parties are agreed (as I think they ought to 
be) that in fact we are never under an obligation to produce 
immoral pleasures, they must be agreed that the goodness 
which springs from pleasantness is never so great as to out- 
weigh the badness that springs from (or consists in) immo- 
rality; and this fact, as we shall see presently, 1 constitutes a 

1 P. 27*. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 275 

difficulty for any one who thinks that pleasures are good in the 
same sense in which moral dispositions and actions may be 
good. 

What the last paragraph has shown is that we seem quite 
incapable of equating, in respect of goodness, any amount of 
pleasure with any amount of morally good action. I suggested 
in The Right and the Good 1 that while both virtue and pleasure 
have places on the same scale of goodness, virtue begins at a 
higher point than that at which pleasure leaves off, so that any, 
even the smallest, amount of virtue is better, and more worth 
bringing into existence, than any, even the greatest, amount of 
pleasure. But I now see this (and I should have seen it earlier) 
to be impossible. If virtue were really on the same scale of 
goodness as pleasure, then pleasure of a certain intensity, if 
enjoyed by a sufficiently large number of persons or for a 
sufficient time, would counterbalance virtue possessed or 
manifested only by a small number or only for a short time. 
But I find myself quite unable to think this to be the case; and 
if I arfi right in this, it follows that pleasures, if ever good, must 
be good in a different sense from that in which good activities 
are so. 

Now, however, we must turn to the facts which point to 
'pleasure being under certain limitations a good thing. We 
do consider the state of pleasure, when the pleasure is not 
a morally bad pleasure, to be in some sense a better state of 
affairs than the state of pain; and we feel ourselves under a 
certain obligation to produce it for other people, when it is not 
a morally bad pleasure, and still more to prevent or minimize 
pain, when it is not a morally good pain (such as pain at the 
misfortune of another). And this is not merely because every 
one likes pleasure and dislikes pain; for vicious people like 
vicious pleasures, yet we feel ourselves under no obligation to 
help them to get these. Besides being liked by the persons who 
have them, pleasures that are not vicious have the further 
characteristic of being worthy objects of satisfaction for an 



1 p- 



i 7 6 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

observer, and perhaps that is the sense in which we should say 
that they are good, as we attempted to specify the sense in 
which good actions are good by saying that they are worthy 
objects of admiration. 

The point is not that they are actually objects of satisfaction; 
for vicious activities may easily be objects of satisfaction to 
those who engage in them, but we do not for that reason call 
them good. The point is that we think of our satisfaction in 
seeing people innocently happy as a justified satisfaction; as we 
should most certainly think of dissatisfaction at seeing people 
innocently happy as an unjustified dissatisfaction. 

It is worth while to point out that the satisfaction of which 
the pleasures of other people maybe objects, and of which they 
are worthy to be objects, is quite different in its nature from the 
satisfaction which a man may feel in his own pleasant experi- 
ences. It is a sympathetic satisfaction, and sympathy by its 
nature must be of one man with another, and cannot be felt by 
a man for himself. Not only is sympathetic satisfaction different 
in its object from the other kind of satisfaction; it is different in 
its whole 'feel'. 

If we give as the reason which makes it a duty for a man to 
produce pleasures for other people, and not a duty to produce 
pleasures for himself, the fact that the former and not the latter 
are proper objects of satisfaction to him, we must be careful 
to avoid two misunderstandings which might arise, (i) We 
might be thought to mean that he ought to produce pleasures 
for other people in order to get sympathetic satisfactions for 
himself. That would of course be a complete misstatement of 
what we really think about our duty to produce pleasure, or to 
minimize pain, for other people. It is for their sake that we feel 
bound to act so, not for our own. That is why I have described 
the pleasures of other people as objects of satisfaction, not as 
sources of satisfaction; if we described them in the latter way, 
we should be treating them as means to the satisfaction, which 
is just not how we regard them when we feel ourselves bound 
to produce them. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 277 

But (2) the sympathetic satisfactions which we get from 
increasing other people's pleasure or diminishing their pain are 
not only satisfactions; they are manifestations of a morally 
good nature; and it might be suggested that it is our duty to 
increase the pleasure of others or to diminish their pain, 
because in or by doing so we bring into being these manifesta- 
tions of a good nature in ourselves. This is plainly wrong for 
two reasons, (i) One is that which I have used to refute the 
former misunderstanding, viz. that it is plainly for the sake of 
those whose pleasure we increase or whose pain we diminish, 
and not with a view to bringing about any change in our own 
state, that we feel bound to act so. (ii) The other is that a 
morally good nature is just as much manifested in dissatisfac- 
tion with the pain, or lack of pleasure, of other people as in the 
satisfaction which we get from increasing their pleasure or 
diminishing their pain. When we remove the pain of another, 
we produce in ourselves merely the substitution of a morally 
good satisfaction with his pleasure for a dissatisfaction with 
his pain which is of exactly the same moral worth, so that 
from that point of view nothing is gained by the exchange. 

We ought to consider at this point a view which might be 
put forward ^ith regard to the fact that we are never conscious 
df a duty to get pleasure or avoid pain for ourselves, as we are 
conscious of a duty to give pleasure to or prevent pain for 
others. It might be said that both types of action are right, but 
that only the latter is obligatory, because in the former case 
there is no possibility of a moral conflict, since in it our natural 
desire inevitably prompts us to do that which it is right for us 
to do to seek our own pleasure. I do not think that this sug- 
gestion can be accepted; for (i) the act of seeking pleasure for 
oneself is not merely not obligatory, but has not even the 
specific kind of tightness or fitness which is moral fitness. It 
seems morally entirely colourless. It is not blameworthy, 
except when it involves the omission of some duty, and it is 
never morally praiseworthy. But (2) even if it were, the ex- 
planation offered of its not being felt to be obligatory does not 



2 7 8 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

seem to meet the case. For it often happens that there is a 
perfectly natural tendency to seek to give pleasure to some 
other person, which is just as strong as is in most people the 
tendency to seek pleasure for themselves. This is noticeably 
so in maternal love. Yet no one would say that because a 
mother naturally seeks the happiness of her children she has no 
duty to seek it. She will very likely be led directly by natural 
affection to seek their happiness, without stopping to ask whether 
it is her duty. But any disinterested spectator would say that it 
is her duty, and she herself would agree if she stopped to ask 
the question. She would not say, 'it is my pleasure and there- 
fore not my duty*, but rather 'it is both my duty and my 
pleasure*. 

What light do these considerations throw on the question 
whether the goodness of the main things that are commonly 
called good let us say virtuous action, intelligent thinking, 
and pleasure is a quality intrinsic to them, or a relational 
characteristic, consisting in their standing in a certain relation 
to something else? When some entity is commonly referred 
to by an adjective, there is a certain presumption that it is a 
quality, just as, when it is commonly referred to by a preposi- 
tional phrase, there is a presumption that it is a "relation or a 
relational property. An entity commonly referred to by an 
adjective may reasonably be supposed to be a quality, unless 
the adjective can be seen, as many adjectives can be seen, to be 
replaceable by a prepositional phrase. Now in describing some 
of the things commonly called good as fit objects of admiration, 
and others as fit objects of satisfaction, I have used preposi- 
tional phrases; and it is proper to inquire whether that amounts 
to saying that goodness is at bottom a relational property. The 
phrase 'worthy of admiration', it appears to me, does not justify 
the conclusion that the goodness which is so des9iibed is a 
relational property. For admiration is not a mere emotion; it 
is an emotion accompanied by the thought that that which is 
admired is good. And if we ask on what ground a thing 
is worthy of being thought to be good, only one answer is 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 279 

possible, namely that it is good. It would be absurd to say that 
a thing is good only in the sense that it is worthy of being 
thought to be good, for our definition of 'good* would then 
include the very word 'good' which we were seeking to define. 
I have tried to call attention to the difference between certain 
things commonly called good and certain others commonly 
called good, by calling attention to the fact that admiration is 
appropriate to the one and not to the other; I have not been 
trying to define the sense in which the one class are good, but to 
call attention to a fact which implies that their goodness is an 
intrinsic quality of them. 

The same is not true of the phrase c fit object of satisfaction*. 
While admiration includes or involves the thought that the 
thing admired is good independently of our admiring it, satis- 
faction does not include or involve the thought that that in 
which we take satisfaction is good independently of our satis- 
faction. We often take satisfaction in things that we do not 
thiijk good, but only pleasant. And while it is self-evident that 
the only ground on which a thing is worthy of admiration is 
that it is good in itself, it is not self-evident that the only ground 
on which a thing is worthy of our interest or liking is that it is 
good in itself. 

We may now try to put in a clearer form the fact which has 
so far been expressed by saying that the innocent pleasures of 
one man are for any other man a worthy object of satisfaction. 
This is plainly only another way of saying that satisfaction 
taken by one man in the innocent pleasure of another is morally 
suitable, or right; and this is a preferable way of putting the 
matter because, instead of introducing the new and not alto- 
gether clear notion of worthiness, it defines the goodness of 
innocent pleasures by using a notion which has already been 
recognized as fundamental in ethics, the notion of rightness. 

I suggest, therefore, that the sense in which from the point 
of view of any man the innocent pleasures of another are good 
is that it is right for him to feel satisfaction in them. 

The account I have given of this sense of 'good', though it 



i8o THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

has been suggested to me not by Brentano's doctrine but by 
direct reflection on the facts, clearly has a close affinity with 
Brentano's doctrine that 'good' always means 'object of a love 
that is right'; and it is proper that some comment should be 
offered on Brentano's doctrine. The Brentano school holds 
that 'good' belongs to a class of merely apparent predicates. 
The nature of the theory can perhaps best be seen by noting 
the analogy which they hold to exist between the terms 'good' 
and .'possible'. 1 That a thing, e.g. a spherical body, is possible 
is, they maintain, a consequence of its constitutive character- 
istics, and is not one of them. We call a thing possible when 
we think it not in itself impossible. And we call a thing im- 
possible when and only when we reject it apodeictically (i.e. 
when we say 'there cannot be such a thing'); therefore we call 
a thing possible when and only when we reject apodeictically 
an apodeictic rejection of it (i.e. when we say 'we caryiot say 
that there cannot be such a thing'); and this is the meaning of 
'possible'. The rejection of the rejection of a spherical body 
is based simply on the consideration of the conception 'of a 
sphere; and thus 'possible', while not a real predicate of a 
spherical body, is a direct consequence of its real predicates. 
In the same way we see, by attending to the cortception of 
pleasure, that an emotion directed towards it and itself charac- 
terized as right cannot be other than love; and to see this is 
to see that pleasure is good. Thus goodness, while it is an 
'irreal determination', is consequent on the real characteristics 
of that which is good. 

With one of the main theses of this theory, viz. with its 
assertion that goodness is not a constitutive characteristic but 
is grounded on the real characteristics of that which is good, I 
am in complete agreement, and I may be allowed to refer to a 
passage of The Right and the Good 2 in which I have argued for 
this view. But there are other features of the Brentano theory 
which do not appear to me to be correct. 

1 G. Katkov, Werttheorte und Theodtzee y 147 f. 

2 PP- "i~3- 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 281 

In the first place, it seems to be a mistake to suppose that 
'good', 'bad', 'possible', 'impossible', 'existent', 'non-existent', 
form a class of Sckeinqualitdte consisting in relations to certain 
mental activities 'characterized as right'. Consider the notion 
of 'possible' (as applied, for instance, to a square) and of 'im- 
possible' (as applied, for instance, to a round square). It is of 
course true that the apodeictic rejection of a square (i.e. the 
statement 'there cannot be a square') is apodeictically rejected 
by a right act of thought (i.e. if we think rightly we see that we 
cannot rightly say that there cannot be a square). But the 
square is not possible because a right act of thought rejects the 
rejection of it; a right act of thought rejects the rejection of it 
because the square is possible. Our thought that a square is 
possible can be right only if and because there is a real relation 
of compatibility between the attributes of equal-sidedness and 
equal-angledness in a quadrilateral. Our thought that a round 
square is impossible can be right only if and because there is a 
real Delation of incompatibility between roundness and square- 
ness. ' The Brentano school is no doubt justified in regarding 
the judgements 'A exists', 'A does not exist', 'A is possible', 
'A is impossible' as being logically very different from judge- 
ments in which some ordinary attribute like 'red' or 'loud' is 
predicated, but their introduction of acceptance or rejection 
by right thought as being what the judgements mean seems to 
me mistaken; and modern logic has found a much more satis- 
factory account of the meaning of such judgements, when, for 
instance, it points out that a judgement of possibility is really 
a judgement of compatibility, and a judgement of impossibility 
really a judgement of incompatibility. 

The theory about the nature of goodness is therefore de- 
prived of any support which it might be supposed to derive 
from being able to class predications of goodness with other 
judgements which, while they seem to be about objects, are 
really about activities of mind directed towards these objects. 
But it might still be a true theory about goodness, though the 
corresponding theories about existence and possibility are 



i8z THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

false. The first criticism I would offer of the theory of goodness 
is that in defining goodness as 'being the object of a love which 
is right', it fails to distinguish between the two attitudes which 
I have called admiration and satisfaction. One has, it seems to 
me, only to reflect for a very little on one's attitude towards a 
brave act or a fine intellectual effort, and towards a sensuous 
pleasure, to see how very different the two attitudes are; or 
rather, since there is satisfaction in both cases, how completely 
the element of admiration is lacking in the latter case. And 
further, while satisfaction at another's pleasure is simply a feel- 
ing, not involving the thought that the other's pleasure is good 
in itself, but only the thought that he is being pleased, admira- 
tion involves the thought that that which is admired is good in 
itself. If I am right in giving this account, nothing can be a 
worthy object of admiration it cannot be right to admire it 
unless it is also good in itself; while the pleasures of others are 
good, from the point of view of any man, simply in the sense 
that it is right for him to take satisfaction in them. Thus 
Brentano's theory seems to be true of 'good' in one 6f its 
senses, though not true of it in the other; and in so far as it is 
true, it is very important. 

Finally, however, the theory seems to be wrong in saying 
that a man's own pleasures are, from the point of view of any 
man, good in the same sense in which the pleasures of others 
are. For while we can see the Tightness, the moral suitability, 
of his taking satisfaction in the latter, we can see no moral 
suitability in his taking satisfaction in the former. Or again, 
to be glad at the pain of another is wrong; to be glad at one's 
own pain is either impossible, or if possible merely silly. 

If our contentions are right, 'good' in its first sense is a non- 
relational attribute; 'good' in its second sense is a relational 
attribute, but while our account of it is a relational one, it is not 
a naturalistic one, since it defines good in its second* sense by 
reference to 'right'. 

To sum up the results we have arrived at: Certain moral 
dispositions and actions, and certain activities of the intellect 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 283 

and of the creative imagination, appear to be good in a way 
which depends entirely on their intrinsic nature, on the first 
being conscientious or benevolent, for instance, or on the 
second being logical or having the characters, harder to specify, 
that make artistic activity good. These things are good in a 
sense which is indefinable, but which may be paraphrased by 
saying that they are fine or admirable activities of the human 
spirit, and by adding that they are good in such a way that 
any one who has them or does them is to that extent being good 
himself. Pleasure is never good in this, which I should call the 
most proper sense of 'good' But the pleasures of others (except 
those which are immoral) are good in a secondary sense, viz. 
that they are morally worthy or suitable objects of satisfaction. 
Things that are good in the first and most proper sense we 
have, by a self-evident necessity, a prima facie duty to produce, 
to the frest of our ability, irrespective of whether it is ourselves 
or others that are going to have or do them. Things that are 
good in the secondary sense, i.e. the pleasures of others, are 
alsd things that we have a duty to produce. It should be added 
that things which are good in the first sense are also good in the 
second. Activities that are good in themselves are necessarily 
worthy objects of satisfaction, and are thus doubly good. 

If these are really two different senses of 'good', things that 
are good in the different senses do not fall on the same scale of 
goodness and are not comparable in respect of goodness. If 
they fell on the same scale, and if the duty to produce one rather 
than the other depended on which was the better, the prima 
facie duty of producing some good activity in another person 
would always be outweighed by the prima facie duty of pro- 
ducing pleasure, if the quantity of pleasure were to be suffi- 
ciently great (e.g. if it were to be enjoyed by a sufficient number 
of people). The natural moral consciousness finds it very hard 
to believe that any amount of pleasure can thus outweigh a 
given good activity in goodness; 1 and the recognition of two 
senses of goodness has vindicated the natural moral conscious- 

1 Cf. p. *7j. 



284 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

ness. We are still free to believe that the prima facie duty of 
producing what is intrinsically good always takes precedence 
over the prima facie duty of producing pleasure for others. 

At the same time, things that are good in a single sense will 
be comparable in respect of goodness. It will be a legitimate 
question whether in any given situation it is rather our duty 
to promote some good moral activity, or some good intellec- 
tual activity, in ourselves or others; and in deciding which we 
ought to do we have to rely on our very fallible apprehension 
of the degrees of goodness belonging to each. And if it seems 
paradoxical to say that a good moral activity is comparable 
with a good intellectual activity in respect of goodness, it is 
at least a paradox not peculiar to the view I have put forward; 
the theory of ideal Utilitarianism also contains it, and adds 
the greater paradox of regarding pleasure also as falling on the 
same scale of goodness. , 

For any man, his own actual pleasures are not good in either 
of these senses, and his imagined future pleasures are i?ot 
imagined to be good in either of them; therefore the dut^ of 
producing good involves no duty of producing pleasures for 
himself. Yet it is natural enough, and it has been habitual in 
most ethical theories, to call them good. It is, however, im- 
proper to call them so. For in the proper use of any word (to 
recur to Meinong's distinction) 1 it is used to signify something 
about that to which it is applied, besides expressing a mental 
attitude towards that thing; while in calling our own pleasures 
good we are, it would seem, only expressing our enjoyment of 
them when we have them and our attraction towards them 
when we have not got them. 

The two proper kinds of good also have, for any one who 
recognizes their goodness, this attractive character; and this 
attractive character, or (as it has sometimes been expressed) 
the fact that we have a pro-attitude towards them, seems to be 
all that is common to these three kinds of thing that are habitu- 
ally called good. Is this, then, the original usage of the word; 

1 Cf. pp. 254-5. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 285 

was it originally a mere interjection expressive of attraction, 
and has it come to have its two significances (as opposed to its 
expressiveness) as men have by reflection come to see, in some 
of the things to which they were attracted, that they were more 
than attractive, that they were worthy objects of admiration, or 
worthy objects of satisfaction? The suggestion is plausible, 
but it is opposed by the grammatical form of the word by its 
being an adjective. So far as I know, there is no evidence of the 
origin of the word 'good* from some primitive interjectional 
form, such as might have been a mere expression of attraction. 
Unless an inquiry by comparative philologists should discover 
an interjectional origin of the word, which does not seem at all 
likely, it seems not improbable that the word started by express- 
ing admiration (which includes the thought that the person or 
thing admired is good in itself) and that it was by a sort of de- 
generation that it has come to have its other types of application. 
This leads naturally on to a further inquiry. One of the 
great puzzles of ethical theory lies in the sense we have of 
obligations to do certain things which do not seem likely to 
bring into being the greatest possible amount of any of the 
generally recognized personal goods, either in the way of good 
moral or intellectual activities or in the way of pleasure. We 
feel an obligation to do a promised service to another, far 
greater than the obligation we feel to do him an unpromised 
service, and that even when we cannot foresee any more distant 
personal goods which will be brought into being by our action. 
Similarly, we feel an obligation to make reparation for wrongs 
we have done, and return for benefits we have received, even 
when we do not think we shall be bringing more good into 
being for the person we have wronged or the person whose 
services we have accepted, than we could bring into being for 
some other person by an alternative act. And we feel an 
obligation to do justice as between different people, even when 
we do not think the sum of goods either moral or intellectual 
or hedonistic will be increased thereby. The force of this last 
consideration can be most easily seen by noting the facts that 



286 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

even the most convinced utilitarians have recognized the duty 
of dividing pleasure justly between man and man, even when 
the sum of pleasures to be produced is not increased thereby, 
and that some of them have recognized the duty of doing so 
even when the sum of pleasures to be produced in this way is less 
than that which would be produced by an unjust distribution. 

The question that faces us is whether we may not be able to 
account for these facts consistently with Utilitarianism by sup- 
posing that in all these cases there is some different kind of good 
that is created by our action, and that that is why we ought to 
do the action. These other goods might in general be called 
situational goods. 1 They would not be activities or enjoyments 
resident in individuals, but would involve relations between 
individuals. Their nature will be seen more clearly by pointing 
to the several instances. The suggestion would be that I ought 
to fulfil promises because the receipt of a service by a, person 
to whom it has been promised is a situational good which I can 
bring into being by fulfilling my promise and shall fail to bring 
into being if I do not fulfil it; that I ought to make reparation 
for injuries I have done because the receiving of reparation by 
one who has been wronged is a similar situational good; that 
I ought to make a return for services I have received because 
the enjoyment of services in return for services is again a situa- 
tional good; that I ought to do justice as between man and man 
because the enjoyment of happiness in proportion to merit is a 
situational good, over and above the good which consists in the 
meritorious character or its activities, and that which consists 
in the happiness. All of these situational goods would be goods 
not in the sense of being worthy objects of admiration, but in 
the sense of being worthy objects of satisfaction, just as for any 
man the pleasures of other people are. 

It is to be observed that initially quite a different account of 
the matter might be given. It might be said that the suggestion 
just made in every case puts the cart before the horse that it 

1 I take the phrase from N. Hartmann, ^Ait 2 , 236 (Eng.tr. ii. 31). The German is 
Sachvtrhaltswtrun (state-of-aflairs values). 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 287 

is not true that we ought to produce pleasure for other people 
because the pleasure of other people is a worthy object of 
satisfaction, but rather that it is a worthy object of satisfaction 
because we ought to produce it; that it is not true that promises 
should be kept because the reception of promised services is a 
worthy object of satisfaction, but that the reception of promised 
services is a worthy object of satisfaction because promises 
ought to be kept; and so on in the other cases. To decide 
between the two views, we must consider each of these branches 
of duty on its own merits. The question seems to me a difficult 
one, but I will answer it to the best of my ability. 

Let us start with the duty of promoting the pleasure of 
other people, and the still more obvious duties of not causing 
pain to other people, and of diminishing their pain; for brevity 
I will use the phrase 'the duty of promoting the pleasure of 
others 5 #s covering all these duties. It seems to me clear that 
the pleasure of other people is a worthy object of satisfaction 
to any man. And it is to be observed that a good man takes 
satisfaction in the pleasure of others quite independently of 
any judgement that any one has done his duty in causing that 
pleasure, and is dissatisfied at the pain of other people quite 
independently of any judgement that any one has done wrong 
in causing this pain. He feels a satisfaction at the mere existence 
of the pleasure, a dissatisfaction at the mere existence of the 
pain, however it has been caused, apart from any satisfaction or 
dissatisfaction he may feel at the way it has been caused. And 
again, a good man's satisfaction at the pleasure of others, or 
dissatisfaction at their pain, is independent of the thought that 
he ought to increase the pleasure or diminish the pain of others; 
he may feel the satisfaction or dissatisfaction before he becomes 
conscious of the duty, and if there is no obvious means by 
which he could increase their pleasure or diminish their pain, 
he may feel the satisfaction or dissatisfaction without coming 
to be aware of the duty at all. Thus it may, I think, cer- 
tainly be said that a good man's taking of satisfaction in the 
pleasure of others is independent of any thought of duty. Two 



288 THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 

questions, however, remain: (i) Is the fact that the pleasure of 
others is a worthy object of satisfaction the objective basis of 
our duty to bring it into being? and (2) Is the thought that the 
pleasure of others is a worthy object of satisfaction the subjec- 
tive ground of our thinking we have a duty to bring it into 
being ? The answer to the first question seems to me to be Yes. 
And if so, the duty of trying to produce pleasure for others 
will fall under the same general principle as the duty of trying 
to promote good activities; it will be grounded on the good- 
ness of the result to be produced though the two results are 
good in different senses. 1 The answer to the second question 
must be more qualified. I do not think that a good man formu- 
lates explicitly the dictum 'the pleasure of others is a worthy 
object of satisfaction' before he feels the duty to bring it into 
being. The position rather is that he in fact feels satisfaction at 
their pleasure or dissatisfaction at their pain, and feel?, rather 
obscurely, that his interest in the pleasure of others is some- 
thing that he can with moral safety follow a feeling whiah he 
never has about his interest in his own pleasures. If this be so, 
it is an implicit awareness that the pleasure of others' is good, 
in the sense of being a worthy object of interest, that becomes 
the ground of the sense of a duty to produce it. * 

Let me turn now to the duty of distributing pleasures' 
among others in proportion to their goodness. Here, again, it 
seems that a good man takes satisfaction in finding goodness 
rewarded, independently of the thought that it was any one's 
duty to produce this situation, and independently of the thought 
that he ought to do what he can to effect in other cases the 
rewarding of goodness. He will take satisfaction in the happi- 
ness of the virtuous, and dissatisfaction in their unhappiness, 
even when he thinks this has been produced as the result of 
natural laws and not of moral action. And as with his interest 
in the pleasure of others in general, so with his special interest 
in the happiness of the virtuous, he feels obscurely that this 
interest is one that can be trusted. His sense of a duty to act 

1 Viz. those pointed out on pp. 271-6, 278-9. 



THE NATURE OF GOODNESS 289 

justly seems, I think, to be properly said to rest on an obscure 
sense that the happiness of the virtuous is a good in the sense 
of being a morally worthy object of interest. 

Turn next to the duties of making reparation for wrongs we 
have done, and of making a return for benefits we have received. 
Here again, a morally good spectator will find satisfaction in 
seeing these things take place; but in this case the satisfaction 
seems to me to depend on the previous thought that it was A's 
duty to make such compensation to B. It is not simply JB's 
acquiring of a certain advantage or pleasure that a morally good 
spectator feels to be a worthy object of satisfaction; if this were 
so, we might say that A's duty to make compensation arises 
from the fact that what he thereby produces is good, in the 
sense of being a worthy object of satisfaction. What a morally 
good spectator thinks to be a worthy object of satisfaction is 
2?'s getting the advantage or pleasure by A's action, by A's 
giving it to him; and that thought rests upon the prior thought 
that^? has a right to get it from A y or in other words that A 
h^s a duty to give it to him. The spectator's primary thought is 
that A by doing an injury to B or by accepting a benefit from 
him has by his own act put himself under a moral obligation 
to B, and any satisfaction the spectator feels at A's fulfilling 
the obligation presupposes the thought that there is an obliga- 
tion, and is not presupposed by it. 

And similarly it seems clear to me that, while a good man 
will feel satisfaction at a second man's fulfilling his promise to 
a third, that satisfaction presupposes the thought that the 
promiser has, by making the promise, put himself under an 
obligation to the promisee. In this case also, therefore, it 
appears that the tightness of the act does not depend on the 
goodness of the result produced, even if we admit that the 
result produced is good, in the sense of being a worthy object 
of satisfaction. The tightness of the act will, as in the cases of 
reparation for wrongs and return for benefits, depend on the 
nature of the result to be produced, but not on its goodness, 
since it is good only because there is a duty to produce it. 

4584 TI 



XII 
MORAL GOODNESS 

I HAVE suggested that things that are good in the predica- 
tive as opposed to the adjunctive sense fall into two classes: 
(i) those that are good in the sense of being worthy objects of 
admiration, and (2) those that are good in the sense of being 
worthy objects of satisfaction. Both of these come, from one 
point of view, within the scope of ethics; for a thing's being 
good in either of these ways brings into being a prima facie 
obligation to produce that thing; we feel under an obligation 
not only to promote good activities, but also to promote the 
pleasure and diminish the pain of others. But goods of the 
second type are not themselves, as such, 1 morally good. Nor, 
again, are all goods of the first type themselves as such morally 
good; excellent scientific or artistic activity is good but^not 
morally good. I wish now to consider that part of class (i) 
which is morally good. What we are apt to think of first, when 
we ask ourselves what kinds of thing are morally good, is 
certain types of voluntary action, proceeding from certain 
motives, such as the wish to do one's duty or the wish to 
diminish the pain of others; and we might ie disposed there- 
fore to identify moral goodness with goodness of will. But 
this would be a mistake. For if we hold that actions are 
morally good when and because they proceed from certain 
motives, we can hardly fail to ascribe moral goodness to those 
same desires when they do not lead to action. They may not 
lead to action either because the circumstances fail to suggest 
any action by which we might produce what we desire, or 
because some other desire is stronger; but in either case the 
desire itself may be of the same kind and of the same intensity 
when it is not followed by action as when it is; and if it is what 

1 Though of course some of the pleasures of other people which may be promoted 
are manifestations of a good character and themselves morally good. 



MORAL GOODNESS 291 

makes the action good when action follows, it is also good when 
action does not follow. And if we widen our conception of 
what is morally good to include certain desires, we cannot 
refuse to include also certain emotions. If desire for another's 
pleasure is good, so also is satisfaction at his actual pleasure; if 
desire to relieve another's pain is good, so also is sorrow at his 
actual pain. In fact satisfaction or dissatisfaction at an existing 
state of affairs is of exactly the same value, morally, as desire to 
bring such a state of affairs into existence, or to prevent it from 
coming to exist. And if we may group desires and satisfactions 
together under the heading of 'interests', interests, no less than 
actions inspired by interests, may be morally good. 

But there is something further that has to be included among 
the things that are morally good. So far I have spoken of 
actual felt desires and emotions, or satisfactions. Take now the 
case off. man who habitually, when he attends to (for instance) 
the pleasures of other people, takes an interest in them, but who 
is not at the moment attending to them, either because he is 
asleep or because he is attending to something else. There is 
no means of knowing directly how his state differs from that of 
a man who is habitually indifferent to the pleasures of others; 
for it is only the physical effects of actions that can be perceived, 
and only actual desires, emotions, and the like that can be dis- 
covered by introspection. But we may feel certain by inference 
that the state of a man who is habitually unselfish differs some- 
how from the state of one who is habitually selfish, when both 
men are asleep or otherwise engaged; for if their state during 
the period of inattention were exactly alike it would be un- 
intelligible that their behaviour afterwards should be different. 
It is, indeed, conceivable that the only difference between them, 
during the interval, should be a difference in the state of their 
bodies; and if that were so, there would be nothing that is 
morally good existing through the interval, but only morally 
neutral conditions which lead to morally unneutral results. 
But not only our whole moral life, with its accompaniments 
of repentance and remorse for- the past, but even the ordinary 



ip MORAL GOODNESS 

facts of memory, are witness to the continued existence of 
the self through intervals such as those of sleep; and the soul's 
nature and state in sleep must be just as definite as its nature 
and state in waking life, though it is in some respects different; 
for nothing individual that exists can be in any respect indefi- 
nite. Answering to the difference that there is between the 
behaviour of a selfish and that of an unselfish man, it is 
reasonable to suppose that there is a difference between their 
characters when they are not behaving at all. 

But, it may be said, all that exists when the two men are not 
behaving is potentialities of behaving, or tendencies to behave. 
The answer to that is that there is no such thing as potentiality 
that is not rooted in actuality. That which potentially has the 
characteristic a can have it only by actually having some other 
characteristic b. We have, as I have said, no means of knowing 
what is the actual characteristic that distinguishes the selfish 
from the unselfish man, when neither is behaving selfishly or 
unselfishly; we can only say that there must be some difference 
between the two characters which actually exists, and becomes 
the cause of their different behaviour when the occasion arises. 
The man who habitually behaves bravely is in some sense 
really brave even when he is asleep, or when no Occasion for 
bravery is present; and his bravery has moral goodness when 
it is dormant no less than when it is being exercised. 

We may say, then, that what is morally good is acts of will, 
desires, and emotions, and finally relatively permanent modi- 
fications of character even when these are not being exercised. 
Some might think that we are coming nearer to what is most 
truly good as we proceed thus 'inwards', from what is per- 
ceived to what can only be discovered by introspection, and 
then to what can only be divined by inference. But that would 
be quite a mistake. What is perceived by the senses has, 
indeed, no moral value, for all that the senses perceive is a 
man's body performing certain movements. But then that was 
not what we meant by a moral action; a moral action was the 
setting oneself, from a certain motive, to effect a certain change, 



MORAL GOODNESS 293 

and this is as truly inward as anything can be. What can be 
said, however, is that a character is a larger and grander bearer 
of moral goodness than any single manifestation of character 
whether it be an action, a desire, or an emotion can be. 

But if a character is the grandest bearer of moral value, it is 
also true that we can build up our conception of an ideal 
character only by considering first the various elements, the 
various interests, that would compose it, and by adding that in 
the ideal character these various interests would be present 
with intensities proportioned to their goodness. We must 
begin by asking what are the various interests that are morally 
good. 

It is generally agreed among moralists that action owes its 
goodness, and the measure of its goodness, to the motive from 
which it springs. The most noteworthy exception to this is 
Kant, who maintains that an action is good only when it is done 
not from a motive, but from a maxim. But this is due to his 
usiug the word 'motive' in an unusually narrow sense, a sense 
sycB that the sense of duty is not reckoned as a motive. The 
limitation is contrary to the natural meaning of the word, and 
in the natural meaning of the word Kant is at one with other 
moralists in saying that moral goodness depends on the 
motive from which the act is done. Any attempt, then, to 
decide the measure in which different kinds of action possess 
moral goodness involves as a preliminary some attempt to 
state the various kinds of motive from which action can 
spring. 

It has Been in the past a widely held view that all action 
springs from the desire for pleasure, and the first modern philo- 
sopher who seriously sought, by an account and classification 
of motives, to set this view aside, was Bishop Butler. Butler's 
account was that besides self-love there are two other general 
motives,* benevolence and conscience, and two groups of 
highly particular motives, 'terminating upon objects peculiar 
to themselves'; one of these groups consisting of desires for 
such things as food, drink, water, and shelter, each such desire 



294 MORAL GOODNESS 

tending primarily to the good of the individual, and the other 
group consisting of desires for such things as esteem, each such 
desire tending primarily to conduce to the general good; these 
latter desires are related to general benevolence very much as 
the first group of particular desires is related to general self- 
love. 1 

In its general lines Butler's attack on the description of 
human nature as being actuated only by selfish motives is 
thoroughly justified. But his account needs some revision if it 
is to be made to agree with the facts. Take, for instance, his view 
that hunger is distinct from self-love, not a desire for pleasure 
but a desire for food. This is clearly correct in so far as it says 
that a hungry man is not necessarily a deliberate hedonist, 
coolly and calmly seeking his own greatest pleasure, or greatest 
sum of pleasures. Such an account is obviously untrue both of 
many of the least worthy and of all the most worthy of our 
actions. It is untrue of the man who 'sells his birthright for a 
mess of pottage', who under the sway of some strong instinc- 
tive impulse like hunger or lust does actions which he knows are 
bound to destroy his prospects of a life of happiness; and it is 
untrue of the man who acts from a sense of duty regardless of 
his personal happiness. It is with the former opposition that 
we are here concerned. It is obviously an inadequate answer to 
the question what hunger is, to say that it is the desire for food. 
Desire is always for something not yet existent, but the food 
exists already. We shall at least have to say that hunger is the 
desire to eat or to be eating food. But then we may go on to 
ask what it is about the eating of food that attracts us. Can we 
not be more definite in our statement? Why is it, really, that 
we eat our breakfast and our dinner? To a large extent it is 
true that we eat our meals to make and keep ourselves fit for 
the reaching of some ulterior end, whether that be the doing 
of our duty or the attainment of success, or whatever it be. 
But if we ask ourselves what are the more immediate reasons 
that make the eating of food attractive, it seems to me that we 

1 Butler's Works, ed. "Gladstone, ii. 33-6. 



MORAL GOODNESS 295 

are left with only two. There is, on the one hand and this is 
what is dominant in any case of extreme hunger the desire to 
get rid of a present gnawing discomfort; and there is, on the 
other hand and this is dominant when we get our meals at 
their accustomed times and in sufficient plenty the desire for 
the sensuous pleasures of taste. Suppose that a man were 
anaesthetized, so that he felt none of the discomfort of hunger, 
and that he were conscious of chewing and swallowing but felt 
no pleasure in these processes. It seems to me clear that in 
such a case the eating of food would not attract him at all, 
except for one of the ulterior causes which I have mentioned 
only to set them aside as irrelevant to the question: What is the 
intrinsic motive for earing? It would seem then that our desire 
for food is a desire to eat food (i) as freeing us from a certain 
pain, and (2) as giving us a certain pleasure, the one element or 
the other predominating as the hunger is more or less acute. 
And if so, the hedonist will be entitled to reckon the desire for 
food as an illustration of his general thesis. But it is an instance 
of Self-love not in the sense of desire for pleasure in general, 
But of -desire for a particular pleasure or for relief from a 
particular pain, or for a combination of the two. 

In principle, this account seems to cover a great part of the 
life of most human beings that it is a search, not for pleasure 
in the abstract, but for particular pleasures. It is often thought 
that hedonism can be refuted by urging that it erroneously con- 
cludes, from the fact that pleasure is felt in anticipating our 
action or its results, or again from the fact that pleasure nor- 
mally accompanies the fulfilment of desire, that pleasure is the 
object of desire. And that is a true criticism of the arguments 
offered by some hedonists. But it should not lead us to over- 
state the case and say that it is normally just certain activities 
and not certain pleasures that are the object of desire. Would 
men seek riches if it were not for the pleasure they have ex- 
perienced in the past, and hope to have again, from having 
riches at their command? Would they seek fame if they had 
not experienced the pleasure of hearing men speak well of them 



296 MORAL GOODNESS 

and were not looking forward to experiencing it again ? Would 
they play games if they had not enjoyed the thrill of the suc- 
cessful control of their muscles and of the triumph over their 
adversary? 

I start, then, with desires for particular pleasures, as being 
probably the commonest of all the types of desire. Secondly, 
out of these desires there arises in some people, and actuates 
them in some of their actions, a desire for their own pleasure on 
the whole. In so far as people are actuated by this, they become 
capable of giving up some particular pleasure towards which 
they are strongly attracted, because they think it will interfere 
with their attainment of the greatest amount of pleasure on the 
whole. Both this type of life and that previously described are 
selfish lives, but the former to use the language I have used 
previously 1 is a suggestible and the latter a planned selfish- 
ness. The latter is a sort of rationalization of the former. 

i 

Thirdly, there are desires for some particular good activity, 
or for the attainment of some particular virtue, or knowledge, 
or skill. These desires are closely bound up with desires 1 for 
particular pleasures. For in general the exercise of any goocl 
activity, and even the possession of technical skill, is a pleasant 
thing, and is known to be such, and we can hardly t>e desiring 
the good activity or the skill without desiring the pleasure that 
accompanies them. Yerwe can at least distinguish between the 
two desires as two distinct elements in our total mental state, 
and can say that in some cases the one desire and in others the 
other predominates. The skilled workman desires both to do 
his job well and to have the pleasure of doing it well, but one 
workman will be thinking more of the one and another more 
of the other. And some of our desires for pleasure are un- 
accompanied by any thought that the activities on which the 
pleasures supervene are good. This is true, for instance, of 
desires for such pleasures as those of eating and drinking, in 
contrast with those of virtuous or scientific or artistic activity. 

Fourthly, in some people there arises out of these desires for 

1 p. 200. 



MORAL GOODNESS 297 

particular forms of perfection or good activity a generalized 
wish for good activity. This is the motive which Aristotle 
describes as dominating the good man, and it is also the motive 
in what T. H. Green describes as the life of self-realization. In 
Green's account self-satisfaction, which is a particular form of 
pleasure, sometimes seems to predominate over self-realiza- 
tion; I think we may take it, however, that at bottom self- 
realization and not self-satisfaction is Green's ideal. 

Fifthly, there are desires that particular people other than 
oneself should have particular pleasures. It is often difficult for 
an observer to know whether an act of apparent benevolence 
to another person proceeds from this motive, or from the wish 
to engage in the good activity of conferring pleasure on 
another, or again from the wish to have the pleasure of con- 
ferring it. But from time to time the difference between the 
other-regarding motive and these two self-regarding ones 
betrays itself even to an observer. For the person whose 
mofive is the other-regarding one will sometimes rather stand 
aside and let a greater benefit be conferred on the object of his 
Ibve by .some one else than confer a lesser benefit himself; while 
one whose motive is either of the self-regarding ones will 
behave in tbe opposite way. And apart from such cases I think 
it is possible by introspection to distinguish the three motives, 
and after, when two of them or all three are present, to say 
which is the predominant one. 

It is noteworthy that such desire for the pleasure of an 
individual may coexist with almost complete selfishness to- 
wards others. A mother who is capable of the greatest self- 
sacrifice to spare her child any pain may be at the same time 
quite callous to the pain of children not her own. And further, 
such restricted altruism is, I suppose, always accompanied by 
some egoism. A mother desires not only the happiness of her 
child, bilt also the happiness she herself will get from seeing her 
child happy and from her child's companionship and affection. 
Nevertheless, it is a mistake to describe the motive of her action 
as tgoisme d deux. There may^ be much egoism in it, but one, 



298 MORAL GOODNESS 

and often the predominant, element in it is an altruism, very 
restricted in its scope, but very strong and in itself quite dis- 
interested. And the same is to be said of other restricted altru- 
isms. 

Sixthly, in some people there supervenes on this restricted 
altruism a generalized altruism in which the pleasure or happi- 
ness of all human beings, or even of all sentient beings, be- 
comes an object of desire. 

Seventhly, there are desires for the exercise of good activities 
by, or the improvement of character or intellect in, some parti- 
cular person or persons other than the desirer. Clearly this is 
an additional component in the total attitude of most parents 
towards their children, and of many men towards their fellow 
countrymen. And eighthly, there is a generalized form of this, 
which is the desire for the perfection of all human beings. And 
each of these can obviously become a motive to action. 

Ninthly, it seems to me that we must recognize as a distinct 
motive the desire that some one else should suffer. It might be 
suggested that what is at work here is the desire to have 1 the 
pleasure of making him suffer, or of seeing him suffer. But that 
would be putting the cart before the horse; we should not 
anticipate pleasure from making a man suffer or from seeing 
him suffer, unless we first desired him to suffer. 

Tenthly, there is at least possible a generalized desire that 
every one except oneself should suffer. But, to the credit of 
human nature be it said, it is far more doubtful whether such a 
desire ever really exists than it is that a generalized desire for 
the happiness of other people exists. 

Eleventh, there is the wish to make another person's 
character worse in some respect. This is not a common motive; 
for in most cases, where a man seems to an observer to be set- 
ting himself to corrupt the character of another man for the 
sake of doing so, he is really not attracted by the thought of the 
other person's becoming worse, but is using the corruption of 
his victim's character as a means to his own pleasure or his own 
gain. Yet it seems to me difficult to deny that in some cases 



MORAL GOODNESS 299 

there is a real wish to corrupt the character of another, and that 
this is sometimes at least a component in the motive to action. 

Twelfth, we can conceive of a generalized form of the last- 
named motive, in which the agent wishes all other men to be 
as bad as possible, and to be made so by his agency so far as he 
can make it effective. But it may be doubted if this motive has 
ever operated in a human heart. It would be the motive not of 
a man but of a devil. 

So far I have spoken of motivation in which there is no 
thought of claims or of duties. But we must now take account 
of the wish to fulfil some particular claim thought of as morally 
binding. And finally there is the generalized form of this, in 
which the wish is, not to do that which is the fulfilment of a 
particular claim (or which is prima facie obligatory), but to do 
the act which is the maximum fulfilment of claims and is in the 
strict sense obligatory. 

I have not thought it necessary to offer any proof of the 
existence of these several motives. I think I have found them 
all (with the exception of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth) at 
work in myself, and I venture to think that, with these same 
exceptions, they all exist from time to time in many people's 
minds though some of them perhaps only very occasionally. 
The only ground on which I think objection would be likely 
to be made would be the assumption of psychological Hedon- 
ism, or of the more general view of which psychological 
Hedonism is one form, that only states or activities of the de- 
sirer himself can be the object of desire; and that is a belief 
which rests on confusions which have often been pointed out, 
and will not stand the test of a scrutiny into the motives from 
which we actually act. 

Perhaps the main ground on which it might be urged that 
only imagined future states of the desirer can be desired is this: 
If what is desired, it might be said, were a state of any one other 
than the desirej, then the desire should be satisfied by the mere 
coming into existence of the desired state; but in fact no one's 
desire is satisfied merely by the coming into existence of a state 



3oo MORAL GOODNESS 

of some one else; the desirer must come to know or think that 
it has come into existence; and indeed the desire will be satisfied 
if the other person's state does not come into existence at all, 
but the desirer merely thinks that it has. Therefore, it might 
be urged, what is desired is not the other person's state, but the 
desirer's own state of confidence that the other person's state 
has come into existence. What a mother desires, it might be 
said, is not that her child should be happy, but that she should 
know or think it to be happy; and that is proved by the fact 
that she will be satisfied if she thinks it is happy, even if it is not 
happy in fact, and will not be satisfied if it is happy but she does 
not know or think that it is. 

This argument rests on a confusion between the fulfilment 
of desire and the satisfaction of the desirer. The fulfilment of 
desire is simply the coming into existence of that which is 
desired; the satisfaction is a new mental experience in the mind 
of the desirer. The latter naturally does not arise unless the 
desirer knows or thinks that the desire has been fulfilled, 
whether or not in fact it has been fulfilled; it naturally arises if 
the desirer thinks with confidence that the desire has been ful- 
filled, whether or not it has. The fact that the satisfaction of 
the desirer depends not on the occurrence of the external event 
but on the desirer's opinion about it has no tendency to show 
that what was desired was a state of the desirer's own mind. In 
fact, there is no general ground on which we can rule out any 
imaginable state of affairs from being desired; we can only 
attempt to discover, by reflection on our own desires and by 
inference from the behaviour of other people round us, and 
from the facts of history, what types of imagined states of 
affairs in fact are desired; and this is what I have been trying 
to do. 

It will be noticed that throughout this catalogue of motives 
I have distinguished a more particularized, instinctive form and 
a more generalized and rationalized form. In some cases one or 
more intermediate forms might be recognized. For instance, 
there may be a man in whom conscientiousness with regard to 



MORAL GOODNESS 301 

the fulfilment of all promises is strong, but conscientiousness 
with regard to benefiting others weak. Such a man will have 
a generalized sense of duty to do, out of the alternative acts 
which would be fulfilments of particular promises, the act 
which would be the maximum fulfilment of promise; but he 
has not reached the stage of wishing to do that which is the 
maximum fulfilment of all obligations, including those of 
beneficence as well as those of promise-fulfilment. And 
similarly intermediate forms might be interpolated between the 
particularized and the generalized motives which I have dis- 
tinguished in other cases. But it would be tedious to attempt 
what one could certainly not complete, a minute account of 
all the possible intermediate forms. 

It is, in general, possible to range these motives in order 
of excellence. We may leave out of account the generalized 
wish to cause pain and the generalized wish to cause moral 
evil, as falling below the level of human nature. Of the other 
motives I have mentioned, we must surely rank lowest the 
wish to produce moral evil in some other person. Just as 
we saw 1 good activities to be good in a fuller sense than 
pleasure, being worthy objects not only of satisfaction but also 
of admiration, moral evil is bad in a fuller sense than pain, 
being a worthy object not only of dissatisfaction but also of 
condemnation; as is evidenced by the fact that a good man 
will fear it more, whether in himself or in others who are dear to 
him. If this is so, it is natural that the wish to produce moral evil 
is a worse motive than the wish to produce pain. The wish to 
produce pain comes, however, next to it in the scale of demerit. 

The complete generalization of this wish, the wish to pro- 
duce as much pain as possible for all human beings, probably 
does not exist as a human motive. But the partial generaliza- 
tion of the wish to produce pain, the wish to produce and to go 
on producing a maximum of pain for some individual, the wish 
involved in hatred, is plainly worse than the wish to produce a 
particular temporary pain, the wish involved in anger. 

1 PF- a**-3- 



302 MORAL GOODNESS 

When we come to consider whether any moral value attaches 
to the wish to procure some particular pleasure for oneself, the 
question is rather complicated and difficult. I will set down 
what appears to me to be true about it. Pleasures themselves 
may be divided into three classes those which are marks of a 
good nature, and themselves morally good, such as the pleasure 
of helping another; those which are morally indifferent, such as 
the sensuous pleasures; and those which are marks of a bad 
nature, and themselves morally bad, such as the pleasure of 
hurting another. The desire to get an indifferent pleasure is 
itself indifferent. The desire to get a morally good pleasure, as 
being morally good, is itself morally good; the desire to get it, 
as being a pleasure, is morally indifferent. The desire to get a 
morally bad pleasure, as being morally bad (if such a desire 
exists, which is doubtful), is morally bad; the desire to get 
it, as being a pleasure, seems morally neutral, though the ac- 
companying indifference to the badness of the pleasure is 
morally bad. 

The generalized wish to get a maximum of pleasure for one- 
self is also morally neutral (though the indifference which may 
accompany it as to whether the pleasures to be got are or are 
not the pleasures of engaging in bad activities, is morally bad). 
Prudence, the tendency to act on such a wish, is therefore not 
a virtue, but only a characteristic useful to its possessor. 

The wish to promote some good activity, or some improve- 
ment of character or of intellect, in another, appears to be as 
certainly better than the wish to produce pleasure for another, 
as the wish to corrupt a character is worse than the wish to 
produce pain. And again, the generalized wish to promote the 
moral and intellectual improvement of all human beings is 
better than the wish to produce pleasure for them, as the wish 
to promote their deterioration, if such a wish existed, would be 
worse than the wish to make them all suffer pain. 

When we compare the wish to promote perfection or good 
activity in another person with the wish to achieve it for one- 
self, I can find no ground for regarding either as better or less 



MORAL GOODNESS 303 

good than the other. Suppose I wish to bring about in myself 
some good activity, moral or scientific or artistic, or some 
moral or intellectual improvement which will lead to such 
activities; and abstract from any thought of the pleasure or 
credit or gain I can get by such activity or such improvement. 
What is left is an attraction towards a certain activity or change 
of character or of intellectual state as being good, and this is 
seen to be, not the same thing as, but of the same moral worth 
as, the wish to produce a similar activity or change in another 
person. I may, owing to particular circumstances, be wishing 
for the one when I am not wishing for the other, just as owing 
to particular circumstances I may be desiring the moral im- 
provement of my children when I am not desiring the moral 
improvement of any one else, and may on another occasion be 
desiring the moral improvement of a pupil when I am not even 
thinking of that of my children. But in all three cases we 
are desiring something to come into being because it is good, 
and all three desires seem therefore to be of the same moral 
worth. 

Finally, we must compare the desire to do one's duty, both in 
its particularized and in its generalized form, with all the other 
motives I have named. It seems to me clear that in either form 
it ranks above all other motives. For suppose that a person is 
attracted towards one act as being the fulfilment of a moral 
claim, and to another act without having this thought about it. 
Suppose, for instance, that he thinks of a certain use of his money 
as being the fulfilment of a moral claim which a creditor has 
on him, and is at the same time attracted towards bestowing it 
in charity. So long as he thinks of one act as being an act he 
ought to do, and of the other not as being something he ought 
to do, we are bound to say that he will be acting better in doing 
what he thinks he ought than in doing what he does not think of 
as something that he ought to do. It is only if he thinks of the 
possible object of his charity as himself having a moral claim 
on him, that he can be acting better in bestowing the charity 
than in paying the debt; and then we are no longer contrasting 



3 o 4 MORAL GOODNESS 

action from the sense of duty with action from a different mo- 
tive, but action from the sense of one prima facie obligation 
with action from the sense of another. Or again, suppose 
he is attracted towards some scientific activity by the thought 
that it is a fine activity of the human spirit, and towards some 
philanthropic activity by the thought that he ought to engage 
in it; and suppose that he cannot do both things; we should say 
he was acting better in doing what he thought he ought than 
in doing the alternative action; we should say that only if the 
scientific activity also presented itself as * prima facie obligation 
(as it well might) could he possibly be acting morally better in 
preferring it to the alternative. 

It might be suggested that that argument is not conclusive 
that, though action from the sense of duty is better than action 
from any other motive when the two motives conflict, action 
is still better when it proceeds from the motive of love without 
the thought of duty occurring at all. But I do not think this can 
seriously be maintained. The motive of love which we now are 
supposing to arise unaccompanied by any thought of duty is 
the same in kind with the love which in the case of conflict of 
motives we judged to be inferior to the sense of duty; and the 
imagined though non-existent sense of duty which according 
to this suggestion is inferior to love is of the same kind as the 
sense of duty which we judged to be higher than love when the 
two conflicted; so that if the sense of duty was the better when 
the two conflicted, it would still be the better if it existed in the 
case in which it actually does not. 

It is not as if the sense of duty could fairly be described as 
a hard impersonal devotion to an abstract principle in contrast 
with the warm outflow of love towards another person. In its 
typical manifestation, the sense of duty is a particularly keen 
sensitiveness to the rights and interests of other people, coupled 
with a determination to do what is fair as between them; and 
it is by no means the case that it tends to be divorced from warm 
personal feeling; it tends rather to be something superadded 
to that. 



MORAL GOODNESS 305 

But, finally, the desire to do the act which is genuinely obliga- 
tory is better than the desire to do the act which is the fulfil- 
ment of a particular prima facie obligation. Suppose a man 
thinks act A to be prima facie obligatory in some respect, but 
act B to be actually his duty; he is obviously acting better in 
doing the latter act than in doing the former. 

We seem to have been able to establish an order of worth 
among the various motives from which human action flows. 
But it is clear that action often flows from a combination of 
motives. (In such a case we may call the combination of motives 
the resultant motive, and the simple motives the component 
motives.) What are we to say of the worth of such combina- 
tions of motives? Suppose we agree that motive A is better 
than motive B. Is an action from motives A and B better than, 
or worse than, or morally equal to, one done from the better 
motive At It was Kant's view, and it is probably often held, 
that the addition of a lower to a higher motive always involves 
that the action has less moral worth. Let us suppose that M 
docs an act from the better motive A simply, and that N does 
it from a combination of motives A and B. There appear to be 
two quite different possibilities, not distinguished by Kant. 
The strength of motive A in jV may not be great enough, with- 
out the co-operation of the other motive, to induce him to do 
the act, while in M it is ex hypothesi strong enough by itself to 
induce him to do the similar act. Then we should have to say, 
with Kant, that M's act is better than N's. But there is another 
possibility that motive A^ love of duty for instance, is equally 
strong in both, and that in Emotive B only serves as an addi- 
tional but not necessary inducement to do the act. Then we 
must say that the additional presence in N of motive B makes 
his action better than M's if motive B is itself a good one (e.g. 
desire to produce pleasure for another), and leaves it equally 
good with M's if motive B is a morally indifferent one (i.e. 
desire to get pleasure for himself). It will only be if the addi- 
tional motive Jtt is a positively bad one that we shall think N's 
action less good than M's. 

4584 X 



3 o6 MORAL GOODNESS 

There is another doctrine of Kant's, quite distinct from that 
just mentioned, but co-operating with it in producing his very 
rigoristic moral view. This is the doctrine that no motive other 
than sense of duty has any moral value at all, that desire to pro- 
duce pleasure for another, for instance, is no better than desire 
to produce pain for another. This might be justified if we 
could regard action from any desire as simply flowing from 
heredity and environment, and action from sense of duty as a 
perfectly free undetermined action for which alone we could 
give the agent credit, since in it he springs quite clear of the 
influence of heredity and environment. But unless we can 
maintain this extreme libertarian position, we need not agree 
with Kant's denial of moral value to all desires. And plainly 
great violence is done to what we really think, when we are 
asked to believe that ordinary kindness when not dictated by 
the sense of duty is no better than cruelty. 

Kant's picture of the ideally good man as going through life 
never animated by natural kindness but only by the sense of 
duty has always been felt by most readers to be unduly nanow 
and rigoristic, and if I am right, it rests on two mistakes. If wfe 
avoid these mistakes, we can think of the ideally good man as 
having many good motives in addition to the sense of duty, 
but with a sense of duty strong enough to induce him to do his 
duty even if the other motives were absent. 

So far I have spoken of the goodness of motives. I have still 
to ask whether the goodness of action depends entirely on the 
goodness of its motives. It is plain enough that the two are 
connected. If a man exerted himself to bring about the very 
same changes which an ideally good man in the same circum- 
stances would set himself to bring about, but in doing so was 
actuated only by the thought that in doing so he would be 
acquiring credit for himself, no one would assign any moral 
goodness to his action. And if he did so, actuated only by the 
thought that in doing so he would be hurting some one else, 
we should call his action morally bad. Yet to say that the good- 
ness of actions depends solely on the goodness of their motives 



MORAL GOODNESS 307 

would be to simplify matters far too much. Suppose A does an 
action whereby he thinks he will produce pleasure, for instance, 
for J9, and pain for C and D y and does it attracted only by the 
desire to produce pleasure for B, with comparative indiffer- 
ence to the pains of C and Z), his motive is purely good but 
his action is not purely good. No bad motive has been at work, 
but a good motive, the wish to spare pain to C and D y has not 
been at work or has not been at work as strongly as it would 
have been in an ideal character. The way in which we judge of 
the goodness of an action is, I think, somewhat as follows. If 
A does an act which he foresees to be likely to have certain 
characteristics, we ask ourselves what attractions an ideally 
good man would have towards the act in virtue of certain of its 
characteristics, and what aversions he would have in virtue of 
others. We judge, perhaps, that an ideally good man would be 
more deterred from the act because it would hurt C and D than 
he would be attracted towards it because it would give pleasure 
to B ; and we judge A's action bad on the whole not because of 
its actual motive, which is good, but because in doing it A is 
failing to have a strong aversion which an ideally good man 
would have. We judge the action by comparing the agent's 
set of attractions and aversions with the set of attractions and 
aversions which would ideally arise in face of the foreseen 
changes to be produced by the action. 

It is easy to illustrate the point. Suppose that A out of 
nepotism bestows a job on .Z?, in whom he is interested, ignor- 
ing the much stronger claims of C y D y &c., but wishing them 
no ill. His motive is good, so far as it goes, though it does not 
rank very high in the list of motives. But his action is definitely 
bad, because he is not being deterred as an ideally good man 
would be by the thought of the injustice to C y D, and the rest. 

Even action done from a sense of duty may for this reason 
fail to Lave moral goodness, may perhaps even be morally bad. 
The nepotist may act from the thought that he ought to bestow 
the job on B\ and so far there is an element of goodness in his 
action. But in so far as he is failing to be influenced by the 



308 MORAL GOODNESS 

thought that he ought to do justice to C, D, and the rest, his 
action is a bad one; and it is easy to imagine a case in which the 
prima facie obligations he is failing to be influenced by are 
much more weighty than those he is being influenced by; and 
in such a case his action will be on the whole positively bad. 

An alternative way of considering the matter should, how- 
ever, be considered. It may be said that such an action, in which 
the effective motive is a good one, and the agent merely fails to 
be affected by morally more weighty considerations, is not bad, 
but merely of a low degree of goodness. But I think this answer 
can be seen not to agree with what we really think. Imagine a 
man who is never influenced by the wish to harm any one, but 
who is completely selfish, never acting even from a narrow 
sense of duty, nor from a wish to make any one other than him- 
self better or happier, regardless both of the rights and of the 
interests of every one else. We should not hesitate to call such 
a man a bad man. We might feel more certain of his badness 
than of the badness of a man who sometimes acted from the 
desire to hurt another, but also sometimes from the desire to 
help another. Yet on the view we are now considering none of 
his actions would be bad, since none of them would proceed 
from a positively bad motive, but all from the neutral motive 
of desire to further his own interests or his own pleasure. We 
should have a very bad man who never did a bad deed. But a 
bad character is a character from which bad acts tend to flow, 
and if we are clear that the character is bad, we ought to be clear 
that the actions which are the typical manifestations of the 
character are bad. We should be clear, then, that the lack of 
good motivation as well as the presence of bad motivation may 
make an action bad. 

If this argument be correct, we are now in a position to see 
that tightness and goodness do not fall so much apart as we 
should think them to do if we held that goodness depends 
entirely on the motive present, while tightness depends not 
at all on motive, but on intention, or, more strictly, on the 
nature of that which we set ourselves to do. For an action will 



MORAL GOODNESS 309 

be completely good only if it manifests the whole range of 
motivation by which an ideally good man would be affected in 
the circumstances, a sensitiveness to every result for good or 
for evil that the act is foreseen as likely to have, as well as to 
any special prima facie obligations or disobligations that may 
be involved; and only if it manifests sensitiveness to all these 
considerations in their right proportions. But if the agent is 
responsive to all the morally relevant considerations in their 
right proportions, he will in fact do the right act. Thus no 
action will have the utmost moral excellence which an action in 
the circumstances can have, unless it is also the right action. 

But if we have shown that in its limiting case a morally good 
action must be the right action in the circumstances, we have 
still left moral goodness and lightness in some very important 
ways independent. To begin with, a right act need not be a 
completely or even a partially good act. Take a case in which 
we should have no doubt what is the right act to do. Suppose 
thr.t A owes money to another man who in addition to being 
his creditor is very poor and very deserving. We should agree 
that he ought to pay the debt, that that is the right act. But 
suppose that the debtor is a candidate for Parliament and the 
creditor one of his constituents. It might easily happen then 
that the debtor paid the debt, i.e. did the right act, merely to 
escape discredit in his constituency, and in such a case the act 
would be morally quite neutral. Again, he might conceivably 
pay the debt to encourage the creditor to some extravagance 
which he could not afford. Then he would be doing the right 
act but his action would be morally bad. 

Again, an act may have a high degree of moral goodness and 
yet be entirely different from the right act. A man may be alive 
to almost all the -morally significant features of alternative acts, 
but may (from prejudice against some individual, for instance, 
or from lack of imagination) fail to be attracted by just that 
feature of one of the alternative acts which to a person of ideal 
moral goodness would be the decisive feature; and in such a 
case he will do an act completely different from the right act. 



3 io MORAL GOODNESS 

Yet, as might be expected, goodness of character is the only 
condition that with even the slightest degree of probability 
tends to make for the doing of right acts. If a man is not morally 
good, it is only by the merest accident that he ever does what 
he ought. The act to which he is attracted by one feature of it, 
itself morally indifferent or bad, may be the act towards which 
a good man would be attracted by its whole system of morally 
significant features, but if it is so, the coincidence is accidental. 
Thus a theory which insists on the difference and mutual inde- 
pendence of Tightness and goodness is by no means precluded 
from recognizing those connexions between the two which are 
well known to common sense. 



XIII 
SUMMARY 

IT is proper that I should now attempt some summary, with 
a few fresh elucidations, of the line of thought which I have 
tried to present. I have, following a phrase of Lord Gifford's 
will, taken as my theme the foundations of ethics. I have not 
tried to discuss by any means all the subjects that are usually 
included in a text-book of ethics, but to restrict myself to the 
foundations. Not that I can flatter myself that the foundations 
have always been well and truly laid by me. The whole subject 
is so difficult in some respects indeed it is the hardest branch 
of philosophy that one must just do one's best, and hope that 
where one's suggestions do not commend themselves, they 
may lead to some modified view which will be nearer to the 
truth, and that where they are flatly wrong, they may by re- 
action against them help some one to see more clearly what is 
true. I have, at least, tried to stick to my task by avoiding the 
discussion of theories which are of merely historical interest, 
and by confining myself to problems which are in the forefront 
of ethical interest to-day. At the same time, there are, of course, 
many recent theories which I have not dealt with. I have tried 
to stick to my own line of thought, and to deal only with 
theories which lay on or near it. 

The general conception of ethics on which I have worked is 
this: Ethics is often described as a normative science, as laying 
down norms or rules of right or of good behaviour. That seems 
to me to be in a sense true, and in a sense untrue. In a sense, 
ethics would be guilty of great officiousness in undertaking 
this task. There are many plain men who already know as well 
as any moral philosopher could tell them, how they ought to 
behave. Not only do they see their concrete duty, in the diffi- 
cult situations of life, with admirable clearness and correctness, 
but they have principles, of a certain degree of generality, on 



3 ii SUMMARY 

which no moral philosopher can improve tell the truth, keep 
your promises, aim at the happiness of those round you, and 
so on. But these general principles, while perfectly sound when 
properly understood, are apt to lead to difficulties, familiar 
even to the plain man, when their nature is not properly under- 
stood; for they are apt to conflict, at least in appearance, with 
one another. What is the plain man to do when he cannot tell 
the truth to A without breaking a promise to B, or when he 
cannot give pleasure to C without hurting J9? Moral philo- 
sophy cannot relieve his practical difficulty by telling him in 
advance what he ought to do in such a case. What he ought to 
do will depend on the precise circumstances, including his 
precise state of knowledge and opinion, and some of these cir- 
cumstances he must know better than any one could tell him; 
if he can get help in his practical difficulty anywhere, it will be 
not by reading a treatise on moral philosophy, but by stating 
his case to some one in whose goodness and wisdom he has 
confidence, a good and wise 'plain man'. But besides his 
practical difficulty, he is apt to be plunged in a more deep- 
seated perplexity. 'What can be the authority of moral rules', 
he is apt to say, 'if, when we try to apply them to the problems 
of daily life, they are found to contradict one another?' And 
there is another source of perplexity for him. He finds that 
some of the moral rules he habitually accepts not the very 
general ones of which I have given instances, but rules such as 
those which prescribe monogamous marriage and forbid un- 
chastity have been and are by no means accepted even as an 
ideal among all races of mankind; and this, again, is apt to lead 
to doubts of the authoritativeness of any of the accepted rules. 

These two difficulties, at least, moral philosophy can do 
something to remove. 

The first difficulty it relieves in this way. Rules such as 'tell 
the truth', 'injure no man', cannot survive if they continue to 
be taken as absolute rules of such a kind that any and every act 
which is an instance of telling the truth is thereby rendered 
right, and any act which is an instance of injuring another man 



SUMMARY 313 

is thereby rendered wrong. The rules cannot both be true, when 
thus understood, if there is a single casein which one cannot tell 
the truth without inflicting pain. And we find, further, that we 
cannot believe that there is any one of them which is univer- 
sally true, as thus understood. At any rite we all feel sure that 
it is sometimes right to say what is not true, that it is some- 
times right to break a promise, and so on with any one of such 
rules. The only way to save the authority of such rules is to 
recognize them not as rules guaranteeing the tightness of any 
act that falls under them, but as rules guaranteeing that any act 
which falls under them tends, so far as that aspect of its nature 
goes, to be right, and can be rendered wrong only if in virtue 
of another aspect of its nature it comes under another rule by 
reason of which it tends more decidedly to be wrong, Kant 
overshot the mark when he tried to vindicate for such rules 
absolute authority admitting of no exception; but he would 
have teen right if he had confined himself to insisting that any 
acf which violates such a rule must be viewed with suspicion until 
it can justify itself by appeal to some other rule of the same type. 

The'- second difficulty moral philosophy can relieve by an 
examination of the moral rules current in a given society, with 
a view to dividing them into their different classes. Of these, it 
seems that four may be distinguished. There are, or may be, 
some whose correctness is self-evident (as, for instance, the 
rule that we should produce as much good as we can); some 
whose lightness can be deduced from a self-evident rule by 
applying the rule to the universal conditions of human nature; 
some which can be derived from a self-evident rule by applying 
the rule to the actual conditions of the particular society; and 
some which cannot be justified even on that basis and must be 
discarded as based on incorrect views about human nature or 
physical nature, or on views which were true in past condi- 
tions of society but have ceased to be true to-day. 

These two perplexities, one arising from conflict between 
the rules current in a single society, the other arising from con- 
flict between the rules accepted in different societies the 



SUMMARY 

pointing out of the conflicts, and the attempt to reconcile them 
lay at the origin of ethics in western lands, as we can see from 
studying the Greek sophists, Socrates, and Plato; and we may 
conjecture that they lie at the basis of all ethical inquiry. If 
ethics does in fact relieve these perplexities, it to that extent has 
a practical value, by removing a great discouragement from the 
moral life. But it is essential that it should be pursued in a 
purely theoretical spirit, guided only by the wish to discover 
what is true; the cause of morality has really been hindered, as 
Kant pointed out with great force, 1 by cheap and easy defences 
of the accepted moral code. And of course the study has great 
theoretical interest, quite apart from any practical value that it 
may be found to have. 

Thus ethics has grown up, as an attempt to attain greater 
clearness in our thinking about questions of conduct. A little 
reflection shows that two kinds of judgement play the chief 
parts in this department of our thought, those in which we 
judge certain acts, or kinds of act, to be right, and those ; n 
which we judge certain kinds of things other than acts, such 
things as virtue or knowledge or pleasure, to be good or worth 
aiming at; and it becomes one of the chief tasks of ethics to 
reach clarity as to the meaning of the predicates of these judge- 
ments. In the inquiry into the meaning of such terms there are 
two stages. At the first we content ourselves with pointing out 
any ambiguities there may be in the usage of the terms, and 
distinguishing what seems to be the primary meaning in moral 
thought, as distinguished from any meanings of lesser moral 
importance and any which are not moral at all but, for instance, 
logical or aesthetic. At the second stage we try to inquire into 
the nature of that thing which we primarily mean by the term 
in question, in ethical thought whether it falls under any 
more general category such as that of quality or relation, 
whether it can be defined by the use of simpler terms, and if so 
whether its definition involves the use of some other ethical 
term (as it would if right could only be defined in terms of 

1 Grundkgung, Akad. Ausgabe, iv. 410-11 (Abbott's translation, pp. 323). 



SUMMARY 315 

good, or good in terms of right) or whether it can be defined 
by the use of purely non-ethical or naturalistic terms. The first 
stage of the inquiry is an inquiry into the use of language, and 
reaches results such as might properly be stated in a dictionary; 
the second inquiry is an inquiry into the nature of certain 
characteristics; but of course it should not be assumed without 
inquiry that characteristics such as we have in mind in our use 
of terms really exist. The last-named inquiry should precede 
the second-named inquiry. For unless we are satisfied that 
these characteristics rightness and goodness exist, there 
would be little point in inquiring what would be their nature 
if they did exist. Now, taking rightness first, I think we can 
satisfy ourselves that it exists; i.e. I think we can see that in 
many situations that occur there is an action possible which 
because it would be of a certain type for instance, because it 
would produce more that is good than any other act possible 
in the circumstances would be in that respect suitable to the 
circumstances (in the particular way which we describe by the 
words 'morally suitable'); 1 and further, that there is at least one 
possible action than which no other, in view of its whole 
character, would be more suitable morally. The first of these 
facts seems to me to be apprehended as self-evident; the second 
naturally follows from it. That seems to me the proper order; 
when we face a moral situation, what we see first is the existence 
of component suitabilities, or responsibilities, or claims, or 
prima facie obligations whichever language we prefer. And 
because we see the existence of these we see that there must be 
some action (or possibly several alternative actions) which 
would have a higher degree of resultant suitability than any of 
the other actions that could be done in the circumstances, 
though we may have no certainty as to which action (or 
actions) would have this characteristic. 

The next step is to reflect on the nature of this characteristic 
which we call rightness; and this involves the inquiry whether it 
is definable or not, and if so, in what sort of terms it is definable. 

1 cf. op. 51-5. 



3 i6 SUMMARY 

One may inquire first whether it is definable in non-ethical 
terms. I have examined, I believe, the most important attempts 
to define it in such a way, and have, I hope, given sufficient 
reasons for holding that no combination of non-ethical terms 
expresses the nature of what we mean by tightness, however 
much we may think that actions having such-and-such a non- 
ethical characteristic must necessarily be right. And then, pass- 
ing to attempts to define lightness by the use of another 
ethical term, e.g. as productivity of what is good, I have tried 
to show that this does not express what we mean by 'right', 
even if we were to think that all acts having this character are 
right, and that no others are so. If these contentions are correct, 
moral lightness is an indefinable characteristic, and even if it be 
a species of a wider relation, such as suitability, its differentia 
cannot be stated except by repeating the phrase 'morally right* 
or a synonym; just as, while red is a species of colour, what 
distinguishes it from other colours can be indicated only by 
saying that it is the colour that is red. 

From this it is natural to pass to asking what are the proper 
subjects of the predicate 'right'. Now here, even within the 
moral sphere, we find that 'right' is applied to a variety of kinds 
of thing. We can say that certain emotions and desires are the 
right emotions and desires to have in certain situations, and 
it seems clear that 'right' here has a moral meaning, not re- 
ducible to non-ethical terms. But 'right' is used mainly, and 
'obligatory' is used only, of actions; and 'obligatory' is used 
only of them, because they and they alone, in distinction from 
emotions and desires, are what is directly willed. We should 
be justified, then, in treating actions as the most important sub- 
jects of the predicate 'right'. It seems, further, that actions can 
be called right for a variety of reasons, so long as 'right' is used 
in a rather wide sense as equivalent to 'morally suitable'; for 
an action is in one respect morally suitable if it proceeds from 
good motives, in another respect morally suitable if it (what- 
ever motive it proceeds from) in fact produces results which 
are the maximum possible fulfilment of the various moral 



SUMMARY 317 

claims that exist against the agent. But if we use 'right' in the 
narrower sense in which a 'right* action is an obligatory action, 
we can, I think, see that neither of these is the proper subject of 
lightness. The former cannot be obligatory, because only that 
is obligatory which can be chosen, or which, at least, the agent 
could choose if he were a better man; but however good a man 
he were, he could never choose his immediate motive, since 
what we dhoose is acts and never anything else. And the latter 
cannot be obligatory, for the same reason, viz. that we cannot 
choose to produce results, but only to exert ourselves to do so. 
We are apt to be misled here, because we usually describe our 
duties as duties to do such things as paying our debts, relieving 
distress, and so on, where the phrases we use seem to refer 
simply to the achievement of certain results; but on reflection 
we see that such a phrase as 'paying one's debts' includes 
a reference to two different though connected things an 
activity of setting oneself to pay one's debts and the receipt of 
money by our creditor which normally results. Of these two 
things only the first is an activity of ours at all; and therefore it 
alone can be that which is obligatory. 

It is quite natural that both the view which includes the 
motive, and that which includes the achievement of a certain 
result, in that to which we are obliged, should have received 
much support among moral philosophers; for both the well- 
motived action and the action in which we not only exert our- 
selves in the right way but achieve what we set ourselves to do, 
have undoubtedly a certain moral suitability on that account. 
But it is not moral suitability of the special kind which can 
alone involve obligatoriness, since neither the desire to be felt 
by us here and now, nor the result to be achieved by us, can 
be chosen, and only what is capable of being chosen can be 
obligatory. 

I need hardly add that in saying that motives are not an 
element in what is obligatory, I am not suggesting that a man 
who never acted from a good motive could do the whole duty 
of man. That this could not be so follows from two reasons. 



318 SUMMARY 

If a bad or indifferent motive ever leads to a right act, it can 
only be by accident, and therefore in a succession of acts from 
such motives very few are likely to be the right acts in the cir- 
cumstances. And secondly, good desires being the most essen- 
tial element in a good character, and one of our main duties 
being that of producing what is good wherever we can, and the 
betterment of our own character being one of the good things 
that are most under our own control, it is one of our main 
duties to set ourselves to improve our own character, and that 
will almost inevitably lead to our later acts being to some 
extent well motivated. 

In saying that it is setting oneself to produce this cr that 
change that is obligatory, I may seem to have come perilously 
near to saying what I have expressly disavowed, that it is by its 
motive that an act is made right or wrong. It is, of course, 
always from some motive or other that we set ourselves to 
bring about changes. But the setting oneself is quite different 
from the doing so from any particular motive. If I set myself 
to produce a state of affairs in which one thing will be in che 
state A and another thing in the state B y I may do so either 
from the wish to effect the first of these changes, accepting the 
other indifferently or even unwillingly as a necessary accom- 
paniment of the first, or from the wish to effect the second of 
them, accepting the other indifferently or even unwillingly 
as a necessary accompaniment of the second; then my self- 
exertion is the same in the two cases, but the motives are quite 
different. And further, in deciding what I ought to do, it is 
evident that I must consider equally all the elements, so far as 
I can foresee them, in the state of affairs I shall be bringing 
about. If I see that my act is likely to help M, for instance, and 
to hurt N y I am not justified in ignoring the bad effect, or even 
in treating it as less important than the good effect, merely 
because it is the good effect and not the bad one that I wish to 
bring about. It is the whole nature of that which I set myself 
to bring about, not that part of it which I happen to desire, 
that makes my act right or wrong. 



SUMMARY 319 

If we are right in holding that the general nature of the 
things that are obligatory is that they are activities of self- 
exertion, what can we say about their particular character? 
Perhaps the most widely current view on this question is that 
the special character of all the acts that are right, and that which 
makes them right, is that they are acts of setting oneself to 
produce a maximum of what is good. This seems to me far 
from being, as it is often supposed to be, self-evident, and to 
be in fact a great over-simplification of the ground of tightness. 
There is no more reason, after all, to suppose that there is one 
single reason which makes all acts right that are right, than 
there, is for supposing (what I fancy no one who considers the 
matter will suppose) that there is a single reason which makes 
all things good that are good. And in fact there are several 
branches of duty which apparently cannot be grounded on 
productivity of the greatest good. There appears to be a duty, 
for instance, of fulfilling promises, a duty of making compensa- 
tipn for wrongs we have done, a duty of rendering a return 
for services we have received, and these cannot be explained as 
forms pf the duty of producing the greatest good; we are con- 
scious of duties to behave in these ways even when we have no 
conviction that the greatest sum of good will be thus produced, 
and this is so even when we take account of more distant 
results such as the increase in general mutual confidence which 
the keeping of a single promise is likely to produce; for we are 
conscious of the duty even when owing to the secrecy of the 
promise this result is not likely to happen. Again, we are con- 
scious of a duty to do what is just, and this refers not to the 
production of a maximum of good, but to the right distribution 
of it. This may perhaps be brought within the formula of 
'producing the maximum good* by recognizing enjoyment of 
happiness in proportion to merit as a more complex good to be 
distinguished from the merit and the happiness; but it seems 
impossible to explain the other duties just referred to by similar 
hypotheses, because the results to be produced, if good at all, 
are goodf only because there is a duty to set oneself to produce 



3 io SUMMARY 

them. We seem to be driven to conclude that there is not one 
single ground of the lightness of all right acts; but the number 
of separate grounds appears to be quite small. And the ulti- 
mate propositions at which we arrive seem not to express mere 
brute facts, but facts which are self-evidently necessary. For 
instance, the very object of a promise being to encourage some 
one to believe that one will act in a certain way, it is self- 
evident that he has a moral claim to our behaving in that way 
if he wants us to do so. 

If we now turn to ask how we come to know these funda- 
mental moral principles, the answer seems to be that it is in the 
same way in which we come to know the axioms of mathe- 
matics. Both alike seem to be both synthetic and a priori; that 
is to say, we see the predicate, though not included in the defi- 
nition of the subject, to belong necessarily to anything which 
satisfies that definition. And as in mathematics, it is by intuitive 
induction that we grasp the general truths. We see fin>t, for 
instance, that a particular imagined act, as being productive of 
pleasure to another, has a claim on us, and it is a very short and 
inevitable step from this to seeing that any act, as possessing 
the same constitutive character, must have the same resultant 
character of prima facie Tightness. But we are perhaps in one 
respect better off than we are in geometry, at least; for while in 
geometry the diagrams by whose aid we come to see the general 
truths merely approximate to having the two characteristics 
which we see to be necessarily united, we have before us in 
ethics acts already done, in which we can recognize the two 
characteristics to be actually present and necessarily united 
the characteristic, for instance, of being productive of pleasure 
to another person and that of being prima facie right. 

On the other hand, we cannot, in general, claim intuitive or 
any other kind of certainty as to the actual (or resultant) right- 
ness of particular acts. or prima facie obligations diffe~ in the 
degree of their obligatoriness, and we often cannot say which 
of two or more prima facie obligations involved in a particular 
situation is the more or the most obligatory. When we are 



SUMMARY 321 

dealing with obligations of the same kind, we have certain 
criteria for measuring their obligatoriness; we can see that, 
ceteris paribus, there is a greater prima facie obligation to pro- 
duce a great good than to produce a small one, and a greater 
prima facie obligation to fulfil a very explicit and deliberate 
promise, than to fulfil one which is casually made and not taken 
very seriously by the promisee, or again to fulfil a prior pro- 
mise rather than a later one inconsistent with it. But if we try 
to balance an obligation to produce a certain good against an 
obligation to fulfil a certain promise, we move in a region of 
uncertainty. In some such cases, all or almost all conscientious 
men agree in their answer, and then we may hope that the 
judgement they agree in is true. In others they would be 
pretty evenly divided, and then all that any of them can say is 
'this seems to me to be the right course'. And one who does 
what seems to him to be right is doing what in another sense 
is right, 1 and is doing an action of moral worth. 

This is the gist of what I have been trying to say about 
judgements of which the predicate is 'right'; I turn now to 
those of which the predicate is 'good'. Here too we have to 
recognize the existence of various senses in which the word is 
used. We must recognize that 'good* is often used merely in 
the sense of 'good of its kind'. We must recognize that it is 
often used in the sense of 'a means to something good', the 
sense in which a hedonist who thought pleasure the only thing 
good in itself might nevertheless call virtue good if he thought 
it a useful means to pleasure. We must recognize that it is 
often used of whole states of affairs in which good is thought 
to predominate over evil. But there is clearly another sense in 
which 'good' is used as meaning 'good absolutely' and not 
merely 'good of its kind', as meaning 'good in itself and not as 
a means, as meaning 'good through and through' and not merely 
predominantly. And it is this sense that is the most important 
for ethics; for it is things that are good in this sense that are 
involved in what is the widest of all our duties, the duty of 

1 pp. 161-5. 

45*4 ' v 



3*2 SUMMARY 

producing as much that is good as we can. But, within this 
sense, it seems that we can distinguish two sub-senses. Suppose 
we take three things which we think it incumbent upon us 
to produce, to the best of our ability virtuous activity, the 
use of the intelligence, and the happiness of other people 
we find that they fall into two classes. We can distinguish them 
first by noting the difference between the mental states of 
which they are worthy objects. All alike are worthy objects of 
interest of satisfaction when they are present, of desire when 
they are absent, of regret when they are lost. But the first two 
are also worthy objects of admiration; they are fine activities 
of the spirit; and no one would say that of pleasures just as 
pleasures. Or again, we may distinguish them by noting that 
whereas the first two confer goodness on their possessors, 
pleasure as such confers no goodness on its possessor. Aind 
finally, we may note that while virtuous activity and the use of 
the intelligence are morally worthy objects of interest fur any 
one, no matter who is to exercise them, it is only the pleasures 
of other people and not his own pleasures that are morally 
worthy objects of interest to any one, his own pleasures being 
completely neutral in this respect natural objects of interest, 
but morally neither worthy objects of satisfaction nor worthy 
objects of dissatisfaction. It seems, then, that there are two 
senses in which things good in themselves are good, and that 
virtuous activity and the use of the intelligence are good in both 
senses, pleasures are good only in one, and for any man only 
the pleasures of other people are good in that one sense. 

Have we, in describing things good in themselves as worthy 
objects of interest or as worthy objects of admiration, made 
their goodness consist in certain relations to those who take 
interest in them, or admire them ? I think not, in the latter case; 
for admiration includes not only a certain emotion, but also the 
thought that the object of that emotion is good, and therefore 
only that which is already good in itself car Se a worthy object 
of admiration. On the other hand, the fact that only the pleasures 
of others, and not his own, are a morally worthy object of 



SUMMARY 323 

interest to any one, at once indicates that their goodness con- 
sists in a certain relation to him, which they have not to their 
owners and which his pleasures have not to him. This relation 
is not one which can be stated in purely non-ethical terms, as 
the relation of being an object of interest can be stated; it in- 
volves the ethical or non-naturalistic term 'worthy' or 'suitable*. 
And we can get further light on its nature by noting that to be 
an object worthy of interest is the same not as being the ob- 
ject of a right interest, for a thing worthy of interest is worthy 
of interest even when no interest is taken in it, but as being a 
thing, interest in which, if such interest exists, is right or morally 
suitable. Thus this secondary type of goodness is defined by 
reference to tightness. 

And now that we have recognized in the pleasures of others 
things that are good in this secondary and relative sense, we 
may perhaps recognize other things that are good in the same 
sense. I suggest that the complex good which consists in the 
nroportionment of happiness to moral worth is good in this 
sense. It is obviously not in itself a worthy object of admira- 
tion; our admiration would be only for him who had effected 
it. But it is a worthy object of interest. And the relativity of 
this good, in contrast with the absoluteness of the goodness 
of virtuous activity and of the use of the intelligence, betrays 
itself in the fact that, just as his own pleasure is not a morally 
worthy object of interest to any man, so the right proportion- 
ing of pleasure between himself and others is not a morally 
worthy object of interest to him, but only the right propor- 
tioning of pleasure between others. There is clearly nothing 
morally right in desiring happiness proportioned to one's own 
merits though of course there is nothing morally wrong 
either; for tightness and wrongness are not contradictories 
but contraries. 

In discussing rightness or obligatoriness, I attempted, after 
considering the nature of this characteristic itself, to throw 
some light on the nature of the things which possess this 
characteristic. Similarly, after discussing the nature of good- 



3 2 4 SUMMARY 

ness, I tried next to answer the question, what kinds of thing 
are good. A first answer to this question was indeed given in 
the consideration of the meanings of 'good'; for we found that 
the two main meanings of good which I have indicated 'good 
as worthy object of admiration' and 'good as worthy object of 
interest 1 were applicable to two different sets of things, the 
first to certain moral and intellectual activities, the second to 
certain pleasures. I did not attempt to indicate more precisely 
which intellectual activities are good; those which are good are 
good because of their intrinsic characteristics, and it is the 
business of two other branches of philosophy, logic and aesthe- 
tics, to specify these characteristics. But it is part of our busi- 
ness to indicate which kinds of moral activities are good. It is 
usually to activities of mil that we apply the description 
'morally good', but it would be a mistake to limit moral good- 
ness to these; for emotions, such as delight at the good fortune 
of another, and desires which do not lead to action, can be 
morally good, no less than actions; and actions themselves are 
good, in the main, by reason of the desires from which they 
spring. We may perhaps generalize by saying that what is 
morally good, besides certain actions, is interests of certain 
kinds, and that these owe their goodness, and their degree of 
goodness, to what they are interests in. With one exception, 
to be mentioned later, the highest interest is the interest in 
something that is good in the strictest sense, i.e. in the bringing 
into being, in oneself or in another, of good moral or intellec- 
tual activity or disposition or capacity. Next to that comes the 
interest in the pleasure of others. Interest in pleasure to be 
enjoyed by oneself is neutral in respect of goodness or badness, 
except where the pleasure is itself the proper pleasure of a good 
or of a bad activity. Interest in inflicting pain on others is itself 
morally bad, but less bad than interest in the bringing into 
being of bad activities in oneself or in others. Interests falling 
within any one of these classes tend to be better or worse 
according to their generality, a wide altruism being, for instance, 
better than a narrow, and a wide malevolence being worse than 



SUMMARY 325 

a narrow. They also tend to be better or worse according to 
their intensity, an intense altruism being better than a tepid, 
and an intense malevolence being worse than a tepid. 

When we consider interests as forming motives to action, we 
have to recognize that there is a better motive than any of these, 
the wish to do one's duty; for it is clear that it is always 
morally better to act from the sense of duty than to do an 
alternative act from any other motive, however good, and if 
the sense of duty is the best motive when it is in conflict with 
others, it is also the best motive when it conspires with others 
in pointing to the same action. It is the best because, while the 
other good desires are desires to bring into being this or that 
good thing, without considering whether it is the greatest good 
one could bring about, in conscientious action an attempt, at 
least, has been made to do this. 

While the desire to do one's duty is thus different in kind 
from all other motives, it seems true to say, not, with Kant, that 
rt alone has moral value, but that it has the highest moral value. 
Certain other motives also have moral value, because of the 
affinity of nature that there is between them and the sense of 
duty, since they include a part of the thought which is included 
in the s^nse of duty. The other good motives are attractions 
towards certain actions as being of a certain character, the sense 
of duty is an attraction towards them as being right as being 
possessed of that same character. 

< Again, it does not seem to be correct to say, with Kant, that 
the addition of any other motive to the sense of duty necessarily 
makes the motivation of an act less good than it would be 
without that addition. So long as the strength of the sense 
of duty is equal in both cases, the addition of another good 
motive improves the motivation, and the addition of a neutral 
motive, i.e. of the desire for one's own happiness, does nothing 
to nlake the motivation worse. 

Motive is the main factor that makes an action good or bad, 
but it is not the only one. The motive of the great majority of 
bad actions is one which is not bad at all, the desire for pleasures 



3 i6 SUMMARY 

which are themselves morally neutral such as the pleasures of 
eating and drinking, of warmth and shelter. Theft, for instance, 
rarely proceeds from any form of malevolence; it springs from 
the wish to get easily such comforts as money will buy; yet 
theft is bad. It is bad, not because it has a bad motive, which it 
has not, but because it lacks a good motive which a man of 
ideally good character would have in the same situation. It is 
bad because of a moral insensitivity which it manifests, an 
insensitivity to the rights of others to what they own. Again, 
many acts which we think bad are bad not by reason of 
springing from a desire to inflict pain on others, but by reason 
of the insensitivity to their pain which they manifest. Thus an 
action is judged good or bad not by reference merely to its 
mgtiye, but by a comparison of that with the whole range of 
motives that would ideally be present. If a man is not repelled 
by some feature of a proposed action that an ideally good man 
would be repelled by, his action is to that extent bad. In other 
words, intention as well as motive plays a part in fixing the 
degree of goodness of an action. But it plays a smaller part; 
for if we intend by an action to help A^ for instance, and to hurt 
jff, our action is a better one if what we 'want is to help A^ than 
if it is to hurt B. The fact, however, that intention plays some 
part in fixing the goodness of an action implies that only the 
doing of what is the right action in the circumstances can have 
the greatest moral value that an action in the circumstances can 
have. At this point, then, the right and the good converge 
But of course the doing of the right action will be the best 
action only if it is done from the best motive to which the cir- 
cumstances could give rise. Further, the lightness of actions is 
not, in general, proportional to their goodness; for the right- 
ness of an action necessarily depends equally on the nature of 
all that is intended in it, while its goodness depends primarily 
on what is desired, and only in a lesser degree on wLat is 
intended but not desired. 

It is further to be noted that the admission of intention as 
well as motive in what makes an action good helps to explain 



SUMMARY 327 

the high esteem in which self-sacrifice is held. The motive of 
an act of self-sacrifice may be no better than that of another 
in which no self-sacrifice is involved; but the former action 
includes also the intention to accept pain to ourselves as the 
price we are ready to pay to bring about the good we desire to 
bring about; and, our own pleasure being morally neutral, 
willingness to give it up in a good cause is a component which 
has moral worth and gives additional worth to the action that 
involves it. 

Lord Gifford directed that his Lectureships should be used 
for 'Promoting, Advancing, Teaching, and Diffusing the study 
of Natural Theology', but he added 'in the widest sense of that 
term', and he expressly included as part of what he meant by it 
'the Knowledge of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or 
Morals, and of all Obligations and Duties thence arising*. I 
have confined myself to this part of the whole subject, as being 
that to which I have devoted a good many years of reflection. 
Perhaps the parts of this course of lectures which correspond 
most closely to what Lord GifFord had in mind are those in 
which I have examined whether what may broadly be called the 
objective or what may be called the subjective view of obliga- 
tions and values is the true one whether they are rooted in 
the nature of things or are names expressive merely of human 
preferences, emotions, or opinions. This inquiry is certainly 
germane to natural theology proper; for if the subjective view 
were true, man in investing God with moral attributes would 
indeed be making God in his own image, while if the objective 
view is true, the way is left open for a further inquiry whether 
morality involves a religious basis. 

At the same time, the consideration I have attempted of a 
number of difficult questions of detail with regard to the moral 
judgements we habitually make is also germane to the subject 
of natural theology. The objectivity of the moral system 
would be impossible to maintain if we were to find that in pass- 
ing particular moral judgements we were necessarily involved 



3 i8 SUMMARY 

in self-contradictions; just as it would be impossible to main- 
tain the truth of our apparent intuitions into the nature of 
number and of space, if our particular intuitive judgements on 
these subjects led to self-contradiction. It is therefore a neces- 
sary preliminary to any natural theology which is going to 
ascribe any moral attributes to God and a natural theology 
which did not do this would not interest us much to examine 
the whole field of our moral judgements in search of apparent 
contradictions, and then to examine these to see if clearer think- 
ing removes them or is powerless to do so. How far I have 
been successful in this search I am unable to say, but at one point 
at least I have to admit failure. It seems to me that something 
like half of our ordinary thinking on moral questions implies a 
belief in the indetermination of the will, and something like 
half a belief in its determination; and I have neither found 
elsewhere nor discovered by my own reflections any adequate 
solution of this difficulty. But the truth can never be incon- 
sistent with itself, and we may hope that better thinking will in 
the long run remove this apparent contradiction, as sound 
thinking has already removed many others. 



INDEX OF PROPER NAMES 



Aristotle, i, 2, 4, 5, 53, 139, 169-70, 



253, 297. 
Ayer, A. J., 30-6, 38-41. 

Barzin, M. M, 219/1. 
Bentham, J., 9, 57, 179, 273-4. 
Birtwistle, G., 215, 217. 
Brentano, F., 105, 107, 280-2. 
Broad, C. D., 22, 36/1., 45-8, 51-2, 
54-5, <>9> ?o, 79~82, 208-12, 219, 

222. 

Butler, J., 78-9, 169-70, 293-5. 

Campbell, C. A., 262-71. 
Catnap, R., 30-1, 334. 
Carritt, E. F., 85. 
Clarke, S., 52, 54/1. 

Dingle, H., 217/1. 
Dirac, P. A. M., 215-17. 

Edaington, Sir A., 219-22. 
Einstein, A., 218. 
Lwing, A. C., 38. 

Field, G. C., 134-8. 
Findlay, J. N., 254-5. 
Frenkel, J., 216-17. 

Green, T. H., 297. 

Hartmann, N., 121, 246-7, 25 1, 286/1. 

Heisenberg, W., 217-18. 

Hobart, R. E., 251/1. 

Hobbes, T., 227. 

Hume, D., 30, 31, 133, 205, 212, 

232/1. 
Huxley, T. H., 15. 



Joseph, H. W. B., 124-33, 135, 
140-5. 

Kant, I., 2, 4, 5, 134, 139, 142, 173, 
187, 189, 205-6, 227, 293, 305-6, 

3M> 3*5- 
Katkov, G., 105-8, 280-2. 

Meinong, A., 254-5, 260, 284. 
Mill, J. S., 9, 28, 65-7, 140. 
Moore, G. E., 6, 27, 38 n. 9 41-2, 65, 67, 
69, 82, 124, 140, 258, 260/1. 

Perry, R. B., 258. 
Pickard-Cambridge, W. A., 87-106, 

109, 112. 

Planck, M., 218-19. 
Plato, i, 135-6, 3 M 
Price, H. H., 180-3. 
Price, R., 54/1. 

Prichard, H. A., 56/1., 85, 148-56, 
1 60, 162. 

Rashdall, H., 67. 

Reid, L. A., 11921, 18890. 

Samuel, Lord, 219/1. 

Sidgwick, H., 9, 10, 27, 46, 48-9, 63, 

6<S-7, 71-2, 76, 82. 
Socrates, i, 314. 
Spencer, H., 15, 58-9. 
Stout, G. F., 232/2. 

Taylor, A. E., 18. 

Wisdom, J., 231 n. y 248-50. 
Wittgenstein, L., 30. 

Xenophon, i. 



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